China Pops

If you’re not particularly outraged by China’s violations against human rights and like to high-five A LOT, you’ve no doubt been watching the Olympics. I know I have! In honor of the global competition I thought we could chat about the host nation and its relationship with popular music. Let me introduce you to the world of Chinese Rock.
Emerging around the late ’80s, Cui Jian (pronounced sway-jen) is considered the father of Chinese Rock. Like a Bono or a Dylan, his songs parade around personal introspection as well as political ideals. His song “Nothing to My Name,” first performed while wearing army fatigues on a televised talent competition, became the anthem to the Tiananmen student movement in 1989.
“Nothing to My Name,” a song both about the love of a woman but also about freedoms in general, starts off like a traditional, flute-filled Chinese ballad. But it develops into a rock anthem that equals any of his western rock contemporaries. Admittedly it was the late ’80s so its production is miserable (but so was 80 percent of stuff from that era), but what it stands for is cooler than the music ever could be.
Jian was a classical trumpeter performing with the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra but was suspended once his western-inspired “cultural-pollution” became known. He was later forced to leave Beijing for a period of time and his songs were banned from radio play. Jian became, and still is, a symbol of the Chinese counter-cultural as well as inspiration to new generations of Chinese musicians.
One of the biggest rock/punk groups out of China right now is the all-female act, Hang On the Box. Their MySpace page boasts some experimental songs that feature incendiary English lyrics, ghostly whistles, and ambient textures. Their discography includes songs such as “Ass Hole, I’m Not Your Baby,” “Your Everything Kills Me” and “Heroin and Cocaine.”
Following in the subversive footsteps of Jian, Hang on the Box uses personal and sexual expression as political tools against the repressive government of China. In response, they were denied visas to tour the United States because the government felt HOTB were “an inappropriate representation of Chinese culture.”
Though they were later allowed to tour, this situation shows the difference between rock in China and here in the United States. In China, it means something. If you play rock music, you are fighting against a system for your freedom. In America, it means you’re compensating for the size of your manhood; just like carrying a gun or an iPhone.
While rock has strayed from its original path in the States, its good to know that it is helping people fight for what they believe in around the world. In between medal ceremonies, go on a search for some Chinese tunes — you won’t be disappointed.

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