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Chinese Rock and Roll History and Scope

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When one thinks of China, aspects such as Chinese history or Chinese food are often the first things that come to mind. Even when one thinks of Chinese music, gangtai and C-pop are popular genres. The idea of Chinese rock and roll being at the forefront of Chinese music seems foreign, even strange. Even though rock and roll was made mainstream during the 1980s and the early 1990s through the work of Cui Jian (An Overview of Popular Music during the Reform Era, 31), it quickly fell of out of popularity during the late 1990s. Through historical count and personal experience, the changing ideologies during rise and fall of Chinese rock and roll will be examined.

Chinese rock and roll is rooted in the city of Beijing. However the rise of rock and roll is mainly attributed to foreign influence. Rock and roll was “performed mainly in small nightclubs…patronized by foreigners (31).” This in turn influenced Cui Jian. In the late 1980s he became one of the first prominent Chinese rock and roll musicians. His music is characterized by being individual, bold in expression, and strong in rebellion (32). This is interesting because the rise of Cui Jian coincided with government disapproval at the time. Specifically, Cui Jian’s music, concerts, and ideas correlated strongly with the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 (34). To further provide evidence, music critic Zhang Guangtian claims rock music was able to give the young Chinese a sense of empowerment and ethos for rebellion (35). Many Chinese people agreed with the views sung by Cui Jian. These facts make the fast decline of rock and roll surprising.

Through personal experience and inquiry, it was found that much of the Chinese youth are unaware of Cui Jian and his music. Young teachers were questioned on the whether or not Cui Jian was important to Chinese music and the answer was often “who is Cui Jian?” This is very fascinating because many scholars attribute the fall of Cui Jian’s rock and roll to the government. From 1993, the government started to implement stricter regulations of rock and roll concerts. The government also banned rock and roll performances from television, China’s largest media outlet (43). The government diverted young people’s attention so they did not feel as strongly about rebellion and protest as they had in 1989 (45). This rapid change is intriguing because it shows that the government, which the youth of China was protesting against, was able to indirectly change the people’s views by restricting rock and roll. Ultimately, this is still noticeable today as many Chinese people are not aware of Cui Jian and his work.

The rise of gangtai, or C-pop, music and karaoke were both attributes in the fall of Chinese rock and roll. Gangtai represented a more commercial ideology in China as record companies could easily commodify gangtai music and sell it in large markets (45). Karaoke represents the people’s desire to sing music that had a “moderate, regular tempo, clear and predictable melodies, and clearly articulated words…the very antithesis of rock (46).” These two ideas become eve more apparent after evidence from personal observation. It was found that today’s Chinese youth often prefer going to sing karaoke rather than going to a rock and roll concert or club. Also, much of the top music on websites such as Baidu is placed in the gangtai genre. This change can also be attributed to the government restricting media outlets for rock. The lack of media outlets made it harder for rock and roll to reach an audience. This allowed other genres to expand into popular music culture and thus make rock and roll obsolete.

The rise and fall of Chinese rock and roll is a fascinating topic because it can also represent the rapid changes of ideology in China. During the course of a few years, the youth of China ideology was changed from believing in protest against the government to become complacent and content with the government. Through personal observation, rock and roll today seems non-existent. Gangtai, through media outlets and karaoke have taken control of the Chinese popular music culture. Ultimately, the changes of ideology within Chinese popular music caused the loud voices of Chinese rock and roll to fall silent.

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