Jiang Wen-Ye

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Jiang Wen-Ye (Chinese: 江文也; pinyin: Jiāng Wényě, June 11, 1910 – October 24, 1983) was a Taiwanese composer, active mainly in Japan and later in China. While known in the West by his Chinese name, the three Chinese characters that form his name are pronounced "Kō Bunya" (こう ぶんや) in Japanese. In his compositions, which range from for piano to choral and orchestral works, he merged elements of traditional Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese music with modernist influences. Due to the political turmoil surrounding his life, he came to be largely forgotten during the latter part of his life. After his death, however, his work has started to gain new recognition in East Asia as well as in the West.


Jiang was born in 1910 to Chinese parents in Tamsui, Taiwan – a Japanese territory at the time, and so his nationality was Japanese from the birth. He is of Yongding, Fujian Hakka ancestry. In 1923, he went to Ueda, a small town in the prefecture of Nagano, Japan, to attend secondary school. He later proceeded to the Tokyo Engineering and Commerce Advanced School (presently Musashi Institute of Technology) where his major was electrical engineering. At the same time he also started to attend evening classes at the Tokyo Music School (today part of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music).

Initially, he was active as a singer, and in 1932, discovered by his choir leader, he became a baritone singer for the Columbia Record Company. A few years later he would become a member of the Opera Company led by one of Japan's foremost opera singers, Yoshie Fujiwara. In 1933 he married his first wife, a Japanese woman. Around this time, he also started studying composition under prominent composers Kosaku Yamada and Kunihiko Hashimoto. Soon he started to earn laurels as a composer himself, and a breakthrough came in 1936 when he submitted the orchestral work Formosan Dance to the art competition of the Berlin Summer Olympics, which was honourably mentioned. Alexander Tcherepnin who was visiting China and Japan at the time recognized Jiang's talent and published his works in Europe, the United States, and China.

In 1938, in the midst of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Jiang was appointed professor of musical arts at the Teacher's College in Beijing, which was then under Japanese control. The Japanese government considered him a valuable tool to gain the appeal of the general public of both nations. In the ensuing years, he commuted between Beijing and Tokyo, where his family still resided. During this time, he was one of the most frequently played composers in Japan. However, that was to change as the Japanese surrender in 1945 deprived him of his Japanese nationality; he became a composer of the People's Republic of China, and his name soon vanished from the Japanese music scene.

In Communist China, Jiang's cultural and political bonds to Japan and his aesthetic affinity with European modernism led him to be regarded as a traitor and a bourgeois. In order not to be expunged he was forced to recast his style of composition to comply with the more moderate taste of the government party. Events such as the Anti-Rightist Movement in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the Cultural Revolution in 1966 made him a political target. Some of his compositions, including three symphonies with opus numbers, seem to have disappeared in the midst of these charges.

In 1978 his honor was finally restored. By that time, however, he was afflicted with disease, and he died in Beijing in 1983.

Renewed interest[edit]

Following his exoneration, Jiang is today gradually being rediscovered by a new generation of East Asians including audiences in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Jiang Wen-Ye was a theme of the 2003 Japanese film Café Lumière directed by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, which tells the story of a young Japanese woman doing research on the composer. His work is featured on the soundtrack, and his Japanese wife and daughter make appearances as themselves.


  • Katayama, Motohide (2001). Biography in the booklet of audio CD Jiang Wen-Ye (1910–1983) Piano Works in Japan, J.Y. Song (performer), New York, NY: Pro Piano Records.
  • Yu, Yuzhi (1994). "Composer Jiang Wenye" in Modern and Contemporary Chinese Musicians' Biographies, Wei Tingge (ed.) Volume 2, pp. 98–110, Shenyang, China: Spring Wind Cultural Press. Translation by Elaine Chew, retrieved from http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~echew/projects/ChineseMusic/composers/jiang_wenye.html, on February 27, 2008.