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Conductor Ying Chen on artistic freedom
Kate Arnott reports on the life of Chinese composer Ying Chen.

Artistic freedom is a fragile flower in China so when musician Ying Chen moved to New York, her life changed forever.

She's now an international success and one of the relatively rare female conductors in the world.

But left behind in Beijing her family got swept up in a maker crackdown on the Falun Gong religious movement.

Kate Arnott reports.
YING CHEN, CONDUCTOR: It's probably the most fascinating job I've ever had. I know there aren't that many female conductors out there, so I feel very fortunate to be able to have this job.

KATE ARNOTT, REPORTER: Ying Chen was born in Beijing in 1968 into a family of talented musicians. Her father, Rutang Chen was an acclaimed cellist with China's Central Philharmonic Orchestra before becoming its conductor. Her mother, Ningfang Chen, played flute in the same orchestra.

YING CHEN: Maybe we're gifted. I believe in gifts, you know, from, for people. People are gifted with different talents when they are born in this world. And I'm just very lucky to be gifted with some musical skills and talent.

KATE ARNOTT: Following in her mother's footsteps she started playing the flute when she was 12. And not long after, left home to study at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music's preparatory school. But it was when the Philadelphia Orchestra came to Beijing that Ying Chen life changed forever.

YING CHEN: My mother was able to interact with principal flutist of the orchestra, his name was Murray Panitz. And after that he told he how what a marvellous flute player he was and encouraged me to go to the United States to study with him.

KATE ARNOTT: So in 1988 Ying Chen moved to New York on a student visa to continue her music studies. She embraced western culture and quickly realised she enjoyed a lot more freedom than her parents ever did.

YING CHEN: Throughout their career, they really don't have any artistic freedom because art in China is heavily censored by the government. So a lot of times they had to play music that they don't really want to play.

(Footage of Falun Gong protests and crackdown)

KATE ARNOTT: As member of the religious movement Falun Gong, Ying Chen's parents faced further censorship. In 1999 after three days of protests by Falun Gong followers, the Chinese government banned the movement.

She says her parents were caught up in a sweeping crackdown by police. Her father was jailed for a month in a detention centre in Beijing; her mother was locked up twice for 30 days at a time.

YING CHEN: It was in the middle of the night that some people came to their home and took them away.

KATE ARNOTT: Also a Falun Gong practioner, Ying Chen says her brother, Gang Chen too was rounded up and detained.

(Footage of labour camp)

YING CHEN: And my brother almost died in the labour camp. He was in prison there for 18 months and went through all kinds of torture.

So it was - we were very fortunate that they survived it.

Even though my family members survived it, some of their friends such as my brother's friend, they had been killed during this persecution.

KATE ARNOTT: At the time Ying Chen had become a US citizen and constantly worried about her family's safety was able to bring them to the United States.

They've since all joined the New York based Shen Yun Performing Arts. Ying and her father as conductors, her mother continues to play the flute, and her brother plays the bassoon. Both also compose music for the Shen Yun Orchestra.

(Footage of Shen Yun performance)

Chen has performed all over the world including Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand; but because of its close ties to the Falun Gong movement, it's banned by Communist authorities in China.

The group brings together 5,000 years of Chinese civilisation through spectacular dance and music, each piece representing a difficult dynasty and ethnic region.

YING CHEN: When I grew up in mainland China, under the Communist rule over there, I really had little idea of what the traditional values are for a Chinese people. It really opened my eyes and helped me see the true essence and spirit of that culture.

(Footage of Ying Chen conducting)

KATE ARNOTT: To ensure she doesn't lose those traditional values, her orchestra uses a fusion of western and Chinese instruments.

YING CHEN: It's something that other people have tried before but we feel that we've done it really successfully. That the sound, the texture of the sound that we've created. As we travel around the world, what I hear a lot is "wow, that sound is amazing." To be able to be part of something like this, makes me feel my life is very well fulfilled.
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