Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Chinese rock (中国摇滚) is oftenly and inaccurately described as a style of music which combines Chinese musical instruments with techniques of Western-style rock and roll. But the essential nature of rock and roll music is that of attitude and lifestyle, which sees no borders or ethnic identity; therefore, "Chinese rock music" is in simplest terms, Chinese music with modern orchestration (with or without traditional Chinese musical instruments), exemplfied by attitude and lifestyle not compliant to mainstream market and state-approved entertainment. Chinese rock music as one recognizes it from the sound that has been developed in the United States, from the earliest 20th century incarnations in traveling bluesmen (ie: Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf, etc.), to the distorted sounds of metal-rock (ie: Ozzy Osbourne, Rage Against the Machine, etc.) rose in popularity in Mainland China from the Northwest Wind music movement in the mid-1980s, made headlines during the Tiananmen protests of 1989 and undergone varying periods of ups and downs in the 1990s with insurmountable difficulties in promotion and marketing in the face of censorship and limited listener base. Chinese artists and musicians whose musical expression that exemplify such attitudes and lifestyles enjoy far less media exposure and promotion of ideas from the state-controlled media than their local and international pop-music counterparts.
The Northwest Wind (1986-1989)
Chinese Rock had its origins in the xibeifeng (西北风, Northwest Wind ) style which emerged on the popular music scene in Mainland China. The new style was triggered by two new songs, "Xintianyou" and "I Have Nothing", both of which drew heavily on the folk song traditions of northern Shaanxi Province in the northwest. They combined this with a western-style fast tempo, strong beat and aggressive bass lines. In contrast to the mellow Cantopop style, Northwest Wind songs were sung loudly and forcefully. It represented the musical branch of the large-scale Root-Seeking (寻根, xungen) cultural movement that also manifested itself in literature and in film. It also heralded the revival of musical creativity in Mainland China.
Many Northwest Wind songs were highly idealistic and heavily political, parodying or alluding to the revolutionary songs of the Communist state, such as "Nanniwan" (南泥湾) and "The Internationale" (国际歌). They reflected dissatisfaction among Chinese youth, as well as the influence of western ideas such as individuality and self-empowerment. Both music and lyrics articulated a sense of pride in the power of the northwest's peasantry. Songs such as "Sister Go Boldly Forward" (妹妹你大胆的往前走) came to represent a earthy, primordial masculine image of Mainland China, as opposed to the soft, sweet, polished urban gangtai style.
Prison songs (1988-89)
"Prison songs " (囚歌) became popular in 1988 and early 1989, parallel to the Northwest Wind style. The fad was initiated by Chi Zhiqiang (迟志强), who wrote lyrics about his time in jail and set them to folk melodies from northeast China. In contrast to Northwest Wind songs, prison songs were slow, "weepy" and invoked negative role models, often using vulgar language and expressing despair and cynicism. Their non-conformist values are apparent in such songs as "Mother Is Very Muddle-Headed" and "There Is Not a Drop of Oil in the Dish". The popularity of these songs reflected the fact that many people in China during the 1980s became tired of official artistic representations and discourse. The patrons of prison songs were the urban youth, and private entrepreneurs, who at that time were mostly from marginal backgrounds.
Rise of Chinese Rock and Roll (1989)
The birthplace of Chinese rock was in Beijing, which as the nation's capital was firstly, highly politicised and secondly, opens to a range of foreign influences. It was marginal for most of the 80s, consisting of live performances in small bars and hotels. The music was almost exclusively the domain of university students and "underground" bohemian circles. In late 1989 and early 1990 Chinese rock partially emerged into mainstream music as an amalgamation of the Northwest Wind and prison song fads.
The first Chinese rock song was arguably the Northwest Wind anthem "I Have Nothing", first performed in 1986 by Cui Jian, widely recognised as the father of Chinese rock. The song introduced into post-revolutionary China a whole new ethos that combined individualism, and direct and bold expression. It soon came to symbolise the frustration harboured by a disillusioned generation of young intellectuals who grew cynical about Communism and critical of China's traditional and contemporary culture.
In the spring of 1989, "I Have Nothing" became the de-facto anthem of the student protestors at Tiananmen Square. Additionally, in May and July of that year, three of China's famous rock bands were established: Breathing (Huxi, 呼吸), Cobra (眼镜蛇), and Zang Tianshuo's (臧天朔) 1989. Earlier rock music groups include "Infallible" (Budaoweng 不倒翁), formed by Zang Tianshuo and Tang Dynasty (Tang Chao, 唐朝) lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Ding Wu （丁武), and probably the most famous of all Chinese rock bands: "Black Panther" (Hei Bao 黑豹), originally fronted by China's alternative music pioneer Dou Wei (窦唯).
Rock as popular music (1990-1993)
After the Tian'anmen Square protests, rock became part of general urban youth culture in China. Its rise from marginality was celebrated on 17 and 18 February 1990, when Beijing's largest ever all-rock concert was held in the Capital Gymnasium, one of the city's largest halls. The concert featured six rock bands, among them Cui Jian's Ado and Tang Dynasty (唐朝). The criterion that the organisers set as qualification to participate was "originality", generally a Western artistic ethos.
Chinese rock reached a peak of creativity and popularity between 1990 and 1993. Dozens of rock bands were established and rock music was performed on a regular basis. Because they were excluded from state controlled media such as CCTV, the main venue was still informal, small-scale, underground rock parties. The core participants in rock subculture adopted characteristic nonconformist appearance and behaviour. These included long hair for males, jeans, silver metal ornaments, black leather coats, and carefree, hippie-style behaviour. The decline of Northwest Wind and simultaneous rise of the rock fad represented a shift in the attitude of many of China's intellectuals. Nostalgia changed into an unequivocally fierce negation, a sense of alienation from China's traditional and rural culture.
Decline of Rock (1994-)
By 1994, Chinese rock was obviously in decline. This can only partly be attributed to strict controls by the Chinese government, such as the banning of rock from television and restrictions on performances. More importantly, the decline of rock reflected the general lack of interest in China of the 1990s in stimulating politicised cultural products, thoughts, or behaviour. People became more interested in engaging with the market economy: making money and improving their living standard.
The radical commercialisation of the music industry in the mid-90s favoured overseas imports from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Cantopop singers such as Andy Lau were backed up by well-resourced record companies and could raise revenues from film-making and advertising, two sources usually rejected by Chinese rock musicians. Moreover, they often benefited from cooperation by the Chinese government. Rock musicians such as Tian Zhen and Xu Wei have adapted their subject matter to the Cantopop style and achieved commercial success. Others, such as the self-styled punk He Yong have fiercely resisted Cantopop culture and their imitators on the Mainland. In 1995 a handful of younger punk bands produced an album called "Wuliao Contingent," representing the boredom and frustration collectively felt within the urban landscape. At the forefront was Brain Failure, the most successful of these bands, who continue to tour the world with their ska/punk sound. English is used to both express what Chinese lyrics cannot and also in imitation of foreign musicians.
Today, rock music is centered on almost exclusively in Beijing and has very limited influence over Chinese society. The Chinese rock movement differed from its Western counterpart in that it never fully made it into mainstream culture. The marginality of rock seems to point to significant cultural, political and social differences that exist between China and the West.
Chinese rock musicians
- Chi Zhiqiang
- Cui Jian
- Dou Wei
- He Yong
- Kaiser Kuo
- Tian Zhen
- Xu Wei
- Wang Lei
- Zhang Chu
- Zang Tianshuo
- Zheng Jun
- Zuoxiao Zuzhou
Chinese rock bands
- Black Box
- Black Panther
- Cold Blooded Animals
- Confucius Says
- 43 Baojia Street
- Labor Exchange Band
- Sick Larvae
- Tang Dynasty
- The Catcher In The Rye
- Twisted Machine
- Wu Bai and China Blue
- Yecha (buddhist god of Hell)
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