10th July 2017
In China’s Home of Love Songs, Blind Teen Finds His Voice
The strum of a guitar slips into the spring evening from within a massage parlor. The drifting melody draws passersby inside, where a freckled teenager with short, curly hair sings about frustrated love.
To many Chinese, Kangding is the home of romance. The most famous of the city’s numerous ballads, the eponymous “Kangding Love Song,” immortalizes its dramatic surroundings: snowcapped mountains veiled in drifting clouds and dotted with temples.
The western Sichuan city is also home to more than 76,000 ethnic Tibetans, making up more than two-thirds of the population, according to official statistics. Historically, Kangding has stood at the crossroads of tea and horse trade routes, as well as on the frontier where the Tibetan and Han cultures have met, mingled, and sometimes married.
The 16-year-old singer in the massage parlour is the product of just such a union, but he prefers to go by his Mandarin name, Liu Weiwei, rather than his Tibetan name.
Weiwei is functionally blind. When he was an infant, he developed a viral eye infection; instead of taking him to a hospital, his devout Buddhist mother chanted scriptures and gave alms to a temple. His family even concocted a mixture made with leaves gathered from the grave of the boy’s grandmother. Nothing worked.
Today, Weiwei is seriously visually impaired, only able to discern colors up close. He resents traditional superstitions for taking away his eyesight, which is partly why he doesn’t like to use his Tibetan name. “From the bottom of my heart, I hate such beliefs,” he says.