Thursday, December 6, 2012

"Chinese Rock," Fuk Yan Chow

Chinese Rock

Fuk Yan Chow

Teenagers of modern China might think the term “Chinese Rock Music” is funny because we do not believe Chinese has rock music by ourselves. Not to mention people outside China—my English teacher from Britain in high school even asked me if my iPod is filled with songs like Peking Opera.  Actually, as Brace and Friedlander (1992) have shown, Chinese youths have turned to Western-influenced-rock and pop-rooted forms as music choices since the 1980s. Moreover, Google has launched a free music download service in 2008 (Watts, 2008). So we are actually embraced by a diverse music world. Like me, I definitely use Nightwish’s (a rock band) songs as an alarm instead of Peking opera.

However, while young people focus on foreign popular music, we seem to forget China’s own rock culture has been thriving.  The first time I realized that Chinese rock music has begun to taken shape was last summer. My friends invited me to the Midi Festival, according to most of rock fans, the most influential rock festival in China (Midi music festival, 2000).  I asked my friend more than once if I would be bored, and my friend, a big fan of Miserable Faith, a famous rock band in China, smiled: “Just watch.”  After the festival days started, I was totally shocked by the enthusiasm of Chinese rock fans. Just like all the fans in the Hollywood Bowl, Chinese fans are crazy about bands they love, and even more fanatical. My friend also said: “Chinese rock fans not only love songs themselves, but also the spirit brought by those rock stars, which have brought a new music world in China. ” During the festival, I gradually sensed that power mentioned by my friend.  Just like Brace and Friedlander (1992) conclude in their essay: “This music represents a serious and critical challenge, both to traditional music form (and to those who make their living with them) and to the hegemony of the government as the legitimate arbiter of Chinese culture” (p. 115). This power, then, positively influenced my attitudes towards Chinese rock--I started to like this music.

So I started listening to Chinese rock music. The first CD of Chinese Rock I bought is Rock 'N' Roll on the New Long March by Cui JianAccording to Steen (1996), the album is “China’s first rock album.” The song “Nothing to My Name” (also in English known as “I Have Nothing”) is commonly referred as the most classic song in Chinese Rock history. According to Cui Jian himself, rock-and-roll is anti-tradition and anti-culture. While I am listening to his songs, I do feel his power brought by his voice as a rebel, but no offensive words can be found in his lyrics even though we can trace his anger and regret towards the society in his sentences. I believe that is the most amazing of Chinese rock itself, after all, under pressure of music press administration and government, nothing obviously rebellious could be published.  Apparently Chong (1991) had the same view as me: “Cui Jian is a master of exercising political criticism in an indirect, poetic manner” (p. 62). Chong takes Cui Jian’s excellent song “Let Me Sleep” as an example. In this song, Cui Jian makes the bridge speak by acting like that bridge. He imitates how the bridge is complaining: “I have heard enough crying and laughing, I have carried enough horse carts, bridal sedan chairs, motor cars, and guns.”  No words in the songs are talking about communism, but I just felt the incompetence of the government, both at that time and this time. The song is about Lugouqiao, known in English as Marco Polo Bridge. All Chinese know this part of history; the LugouqiaoIncident is the first shot of war between China and Japan (Xiang, 2012, p. 6). The bridge would have a good sleep after the war was over. However, Cui Jian wrote “it never had a good sleep” many years after the war ends. Obviously, the society and government at his time did not satisfy him: not only the bridge but also he never had a good sleep. Chong has also concluded the following:

The bridge - famous, old and worn-out - is a symbol of Chinese culture itself. It has had its fill of traffic, commerce, war, progress, and other turbulent events, and its plea to be left alone reflects the desire for peace and quiet of the ordinary Chinese. They are tired of writing history, of making war, of fulfilling, century after century, the demands, which their leaders put to them for the supposed sake of the nation.(p. 63)

So, for me, Cui Jian has a story and has his own understanding of stories of a bridge, a river, a stone, and all living and non-living objects. Once a song expresses a story, the story gives the song a soul. Unlike vulgar loves songs of Chinese music industry, which are sold well but has no actual content just be filled with hollow words. Cui Jian’s rock is more pure and fresh even with his ordinary words. As one of the young and restless generations, we may rather listen to nightwish, nirvana, and other mental bands because we feel relaxed and high when embraced by this music. And it may be weird if you hear Cui Jian’s rock in a nightclub. However, Cui Jiang’s songs are what you will never be sick of after hearing hundreds of times. They help me to settle down, quietly listened to a story and feel the growth of Chinese rock n roll.

Because I went to the second day of Midi 2011, I choose bands performed on that day as my second stop on the way of Chinese rock n roll, including Miserable Faith, Cold Fairyland, Yaksa and so on.  Among these, Miserable Faith has raised my interest. It is a combination of Cui Jian and Nightwith in my opinion. Some of their songs, like On The Roadif translated into English, will not be doubted that they are from Nightwish. The lead singers of the two bans have similar voices. It is rare to hear such voice in China and therefore it is special. Other songs like “Xihu” (also known in English as “West Lake”), has a similar style to Cui Jian, which is a song of a beautiful story. Xihu, one of the most beautiful lakes in China, which is in the city I live and has impressed me strongly, so as this song. I can feel what MF wants to express. When I leave Hangzhou, leave West Lake, and went here to the USA, I suddenly feel sad and start to miss my hometown after a few months. The song not only arouses people’s wistfulness of their hometown, but also families and lovers. In such a indirect description, only people who came with stories would understand.

In conclusion, Chinese Rock has been developing for years and has already formed a complete and mature system. Most of Chinese Rock songs are worth listening to again and again. In this fickle society, people need to find a way to express their anger and release their pressure. In any rock event, I think both listener and performer would be satisfied by music. I hope foreign music lovers would change their view of Chinese music and accept the brand new Chinese rock.


Brace, T., & Friedlander, P. (1992). Rock and roll in the New Long March: Popular music, cultural identity, political opposition of People's Republic of China. In R. Garofalo (Ed.), Rockin' the boat (pp. 115-129). Cambrige, MA: South End Press.
Chong, W. L. (1991). Young China's voice of the 1980s: Rock star Cui JianChina Information, 55-74. doi:10.1177/0920203X9100600106
Midi music festival. (2000). Retrieved August 27, 2012, from Rock in China! website:
Shanghai midi music festival 2011. (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2012, from Rock in China! website:
Steen, A. (1996). Der lange Marsch des Rock 'n' Roll: Pop- und Rockmusik in der Volksrepublik China. Hamburg, Germany: Lit Verlag.
Watts, M. (2008, August 6). Google launches free music download service in china. Computerweekly. Retrieved from
Xiang, A. (n.d.). The communist-instigated Marco Polo bridge incident. Retrieved August 25, 2012, from Republicanchina website:

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