T'ou-Sè-Wè Craft School Anthem Resung Based on Historical Recordings

A French missionary, Achilles Durand, taught a group of Chinese orphans to annotate Latin lyrics in the Shanghai dialect at the T'ou-Sè-Wè Orphanage in Shanghai at the beginning of the 20th century.
A French missionary, Achilles Durand, taught a group of Chinese orphans to annotate Latin lyrics in the Shanghai dialect at the T'ou-Sè-Wè Orphanage in Shanghai at the beginning of the 20th century.
By Esther TianSeptember 4th, 2023

T'ou-Sè-Wè Craft School, situated in Xujiahui District, Shanghai, was acclaimed as the cradle of Western paintings in China. However, a group of Chinese orphans in the T'ou-Sè-Wè Orphanage took up Western musical instruments and began performing Western music as early as the beginning of the 20th century under the instruction of foreign missionaries.

Recently, during my exploration of the musical heritage of T'ou-Sè-Wè, I came across a century-old song titled "T'ou-Sè-Wè Craft School Anthem" in a video. In the video, children from the Huishi Primary School choir in Xuhui District and an elderly person sang together in Shanghainese. The children, dressed in traditional Chinese attire and cloth shoes, performed live at the T'ou-Sè-Wè Museum, while the voice of the elderly person came through the television screen.

"The teachers there are like fathers, and life there is truly joyful. Ah, we cannot forget them; we cherish them. T'ou-Sè-Wè Craft School, lovely home...," they sang.

The fact that this century-old song could be heard again is a remarkable achievement and a delightful surprise. To begin with, the lyrics were discovered on a piece of discarded paper.

In 2008, the construction of the T'ou-Sè-Wè Museum began. Song Haojie, deputy director of the district cultural and tourism bureau at the time, visited diverse places in search of records related to T'ou-Sè-Wè. Through his visits and repeated negotiations, Fu Rose Church decided to donate a bell and accessories previously made by the craft school to the museum. While Song Haojie was sorting out these accessories, he serendipitously found a piece of paper wrapping the accessories, bearing the lyrics of the T'ou-Sè-Wè Craft School anthem. However, the lyrics were incomplete. On May 10, 2009, Zhang Yonglin, an elderly man who had once worked as a typesetter at T'ou-Sè-Wè Press, reconstructed the lyrics more comprehensively based on his recollections.

This unexpected discovery allowed the anthem to see the light of day once again. However, due to the passage of time, T'ou-Sè-Wè elders had forgotten how to sing this song. After multiple visits, it was ultimately Li Shunxing, an elderly man, who remembered and performed it.

The elderly person in the video is Li Shunxing, currently the last surviving T'ou-Sè-Wè elder in Shanghai. Born in 1933, he attended Huishi Primary School. His father tragically passed away in 1946, and at the age of 13, the orphanage took him in. He attended Ciyun Elementary School to finish his primary education. Later, he enrolled in the craft school to study printing technology and remained to work there. Afterward, Li worked as a laborer at Shanghai Zhonghua Printing Co., Ltd., eventually becoming the head of the foreign language department before retiring.

In early November 2022, Jin Zhihong, deputy director of the T'ou-Sè-Wè Museum, enlisted the help of the young composer Xiao He to recreate this piece of music based on the historical recording. Reconstructing it was challenging due to the lack of intonation and rhythm in the elderly person's recording. In addition to collecting music from that era and historical fragments, Xiao He had to speculate about the melody based on the arrangement and direction of French brass band music at the time. Fortunately, when the audio was produced and played back to the elderly person, he was moved to tears, rediscovering the familiar sounds in T'ou-Sè-Wè from years ago.

On May 18th, International Museum Day, the anthem was performed for the first time at the museum, resonating with the citizens.

(Reference: Shanghai Meeting Room published by Shanghai Morning Post - Zhoudao)

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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