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    Minor Chords: China’s Youngest Guitar Star Strikes Tough Balance

    Six-year-old Miumiu has attracted a huge online following with her guitar skills. But she’d often rather just watch cartoons.

    In late February, Zhou Jingwei uploaded a video of his 6-year-old daughter Miumiu playing the classic song “Fly Me to the Moon” to YouTube. The simple video, shot in their home in the eastern city of Nanjing, would quickly turn their lives upside-down.

    Miumiu’s quick-fingered guitar skills and pure voice appeared to connect with viewers looking for an oasis of calm amid the upheaval of a rapidly spreading virus. At time of writing, the video has been viewed 5.6 million times and has received over 15,000 comments.

    The hit transformed Miumiu Guitargirl, as she’s known online, into a bona fide YouTube star. She’s since recorded duets with Miserable Faith — one of China’s most famous rock bands — and even shot a promotional video for her hometown in eastern China.

    Yet Miumiu says her classmates and teachers have no idea she’s now a famous guitarist. YouTube isn’t readily accessible in China, and schools across the country only recently reopened following an extended shutdown due to virus control measures.

    “School is where you study,” Miumiu tells Sixth Tone. “You can’t take a guitar to the classroom and say, ‘I play really well.’ It doesn’t matter at all.”

    Miumiu, whose full name is Zhou Zhaoyan, started to learn guitar at 3 years old. Her first tutor was her father, Zhou Jingwei, a classical guitarist who studied music at the Nanjing Arts Institute, and now runs a studio and teaches guitar classes for a living.

    He’s a strict father. After Miumiu started attending primary school, she had to practice guitar for at least two hours a day. On Fridays and weekends, there were more guitar lessons, as well as drum and piano classes. The 6-year-old has already accumulated over 2,000 hours of music practice, Zhou Jingwei estimates.

    “She just practices a lot,” he says. “Most children are also busy with various extracurricular classes. Miumiu just chose one and studied diligently.”

    Parents like Zhou Jingwei are far from rare in China. According to a 2019 report, 72% of Chinese students in the early years of primary school attend extra-curricular classes. And many parents aim to raise their children to be internet celebrities, encouraging them to star in videos, livestreams, and sign for agencies from a young age.

    Zhou Jingwei started posting videos of Miumiu from age 3, but he says he never expected her to find such a level of fame. The rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” changed everything.

    Over recent months, several businesses and artist agencies have contacted the family, offering the chance to cash in on Miumiu’s success. But after a long talk with his wife, Zhou Jingwei turned down all the offers.

    “Miumiu doesn’t know what fans or fame are,” Zhou says. “She has no idea what happens online. We hope she can maintain the normal life a 6-year-old child should have.”

    For her part, Miumiu’s ambitions lay elsewhere. “I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” she tells Sixth Tone. “If my dad gets sick, he can come to the hospital and I can treat him.”

    Zhou Jingwei says he approves of his daughter’s plan. “I totally support her … Changing a person’s dream will cause them psychological pain,” he says. “Also, it’s cool to be a doctor who plays guitar.”

    Editor: Dominic Morgan.

    (Header image: Zhou Zhaoyan play guitar at his father’s studio in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, June 12, 2020. Shi Yangkun/Sixth Tone)