Beijing, China

By Jason Lee

Every night from 7pm until around midnight, anyone in Beijing who craves a bit of music can go and enjoy an “open-air concert” in the southeast of the city.

Street musician Zhang Mingyuan sings during his daily performance at a square outside a shopping mall in Beijing

The singer, Zhang Mingyuan, isn’t part of a famous music label and his performances are just held on a street corner. But even so, the warm atmosphere that he creates in the chilly night air seldom disappoints.

Street musician Zhang Mingyuan relaxes his eyes during a break at his daily performance at a square outside a shopping mall in Beijing

Many of Zhang’s songs are about a happy family life, but his own childhood seems to have been far from content. Born in China’s northeast Heilongjiang province, Zhang said that his father had depression and his mother left him when Zhang was 11 years old. His father left later and Zhang said he was abandoned.

He struggled to feed himself, and when he turned 17 he joined the military, where he learned the basics of music through playing in an army band. After doing two years of military service he had a passion for singing and needed to find a way to support himself. His career as a street musician began.

Street musician Zhang Mingyuan plays the guitar as he practises a new song at a park in Beijing

At first, Zhang travelled around the county for seven years before settling down in the capital. In Beijing he started to sell recordings of his own songs in an underground passage, charging 10 yuan ($1.60) for an album featuring around 30 tracks that he had composed over the years. So far, he says he has sold about 40,000 discs.