Chapter III - The Long March of Rock'n'Roll (Der Lange Marsch des Rock'n'Roll)

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Chapter III - The Long March of Rock'n'Roll (Der Lange Marsch des Rock'n'Roll)

Draft translated version


General information

Original works author: Andreas Steen

Original works title: Der Lange Marsch des Rock'n'Roll

Translation: Max-Leonhard von Schaper (Azchael)


Following the at the beginning (of this paper in chapter I) mentioned observations of Jin Zhaojun, the development of Chinese rock music shall be described along the three periods of its pioneer phase (chuangye jieduan). The consideration of these by decisive events separated episodes grants an insight into the at the 'negotiation' of this musical form participating factors and interests, which, embedded in a historical context and supplemented by respective song lyrics and interview contributions, let eventually the radical new moment of musical practive be in the public eye.

1984-1988: The beginnings

In the year 1979 students of the 2nd foreign language institute in Beijing formed the band Wan Li Ma Wang and organized concerts in the universities of the city.[1] Their (song) programme consisted mainly of songs of the Beatles, Bee Gees and of Paul Simon (Xue 1993:253)[2]. Financial difficulties, the shortage of available music instruments and the small circle of in rock music interested musicians in the city led inevitably to close contact and mutual support between the individual bands. So e.g. Wanli mawang worked also together with Bu Dao Weng ('Skipjack' or 'roly-poly'), when they (Budaoweng) were supported by a work unit (danwei) with instruments. Budaoweng, formed 1984 by Li Ji and friends of the spoken theatre school (Quanzhong huajutuan yuan), existed only for a year, but is in so far notable, as that it combined all 'Altrocker' (lao yaogun), e.g. Qin Qi, Wang Yong, Li Li, Yan Gang, Sun Guoqing, Ding Wu, Zang Tianshuo and Wang Di (Xue 1993:279)[2]. The band played popular Japanese and Western pop music. Qin Qi says about that time:

Until 1982, there was only the music of Deng Lijun, (...) and until 1984 there were only a few people, that did something else. Then there was Bu Dao Weng, and nearly everybody, that made rock in Beijing, played in it. After Cui Jian's Qi He Ban was disbanded, he also came often over (Xue 1993:178)[2].
Qiheban aka Seven-piece puzzle

Qi He Ban existed from November 1984 until June 1985 and covered played pop and rock songs. The band had already given concerts and consisted of the musicians Cui Jian, Liu Yuan, Yang Yueqiang, Wen Bo, Zhou Xiaoming and Li Xiuli.[3] Of certainly not little influence must have been the at the end of 1983 by in Beijing living foreigners formed band Dalu yuedui (Mainland band), that played a mixture of rock, reggae and African music and which since autumn 1984 performed often in the 'Club International' (Guoji juelbu) and in other hotels (Xue 1993:290)[2].

Many of the above mentioned musicians studied in the beginning classical Western oder Chinese instruments, such as e.g. Qin Qi, who started in the age of 13 with violin lessons (Xue 1993:178)[2], or Wang Yang, who already in the age of 9 played the Guzheng (finger board zither) (ebenda:138)[2]. Ding Wu, nowadays singer and guitarist of Tang Chao (Tang Dynasty), during his studies at the worker art high school (Gongyi meishu xuexiao) came in contact for the first time with the music of the Beatles andother musicians, before he joined Budaoweng as a singer in 1984. About this time he says:

After the long time of isolation was ended in our country, several adolescents came in contact with this music. They started to listen to this tapes and to learn them, as also to understand the life of musicians through films and magazines. These adolescents betrayed at first their families, because between them and the family or just within the family was no common language left anymore. They spent their time mostly with the listening to foreign tapes, clung at them at the same time, by inputting all their energy - very inflexibal. Later they found some like-minded friends, with whom they exchanged tapes and also shared the opportunity for a joint guitar practice. They didn't care about politics, it didn't matter. It seems as if the circle of rock musicians was isolated for a long time from its surroundings. They have relied completely on their individual interests, they wanted to hear this rhythm and to play this music. At that time everything happened in the underground, there were neither concerts nor financial sources. They were artificially isolated from the world (Xue 1993:15/16)[2].

One of the few musicians, that was already relatively early involved in numerous musical activities and who should suceed in breaking out of this isolation, was Cui Jian.

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Cui Jian at Tiananmen Square

Cui Jian, born on August 2nd 1961, grew up with his younger brother in Beijing. The parents, both of a Korean minority, were active in the artistic area. His mother worked as a dancer in a state folk dance ensamble (Zhongyang minzu gewutuan), his father as a trumpeter and 'meritorious background musician' in a military orchestra (Kongzheng wengongtuan) (Zhao 1992:106)[4]. The father paid attention, that Cui Jian started early with learning of playing a music instrument, because

many in that time started with the learning of playing a music instrument, in order to build up after the cultural revolution next to their life as peasent in the countryside also another main pillar in the city through easy means (Zhao 192:109)[4].

Cui, who decided for learning the trumpet, played with 14 years on an event the at that time popular song Wo ai wo de Taiwan (I love my Taiwan) and received a year later, 1976, offers of several orchestras. After graduation from middle school he worked for various music ensembles in Beijing, before he joined in 1981 the Beijing sing and dance ensemble (Beijing gewutuan) (Zhao 1992:112)[4]. As many other adolescents Cui had meanwhile borrowed money from his parents for a radio recorder, was captured by the pop wave at the beginning of the eighties and discovered his interest for guitars. The first teacher was a Mongolian worker, who however only knew three songs by himself. While Cui rehearsed during daytime with the dance orchestra, he practiced at night for himself and started composing his own songs (Zhao 1992:115)[4]. After separating from the band Qiheban he recorded his first song: Menzhong de qingsu (To unburden one's heart in the dream). The song was published next to other songs from that time on a 1994 published tape.[5] It is similar to many of these songs of American offspring and - according to the fashion at that time - wholesome or partly sung in English. By Cui himself composed and texted is only the song Jiannan xing (A hard way), which already let one recognize his will for freedom and the desire, respectively courage for change:

Insert original lyrics
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Lanzi Gui cover

1986 he eventually records his first solo LP with ten compositions: Langzi gui (Return of a vagabound).[6] The LP has mainly been a success for Huang Xiaomao, who had written all the lyrics. At that point of time he had written already ca. 1000 texts for various musicians. Bored with texting he used the from the publishing of Langzi gui resulting offers of various record companies to work as a consultant for the music industry.[7]

The LP itself shows clearly the influence of the at that time the country conquering gangtai music, 'reflects exactly the style of that time' (Weng 1992:207)[8] and is far away from rock. During the selection of Huang's written lyrics, Cui Jian was by far more innovative, as he started already here to express communication problems, the loneliness of a rapidly changing society and private emotions - topics that he is going to attend to later on by himself in detail (Chong 1991:56)[9].[10] The title song Langzi gui was deemed excellent already at that time (Zhao 1992:118)[4]:

Insert original lyrics

Described were feeling and situation of a generation of adolescents, that were sent during the cultural revolution to the countryside and now, alienated from their own family, by and by are returning into the cities. The relevance to the current situation was immediately sensible, because in April 1985 hundreds of Chinese, which were deported 17 years earlier into the province Shaanxi, came illegally to Beijing in order to gather in the name of more than 20000 deported in front of the headquarter of the CPC and to demostrate for the return of their families (Spence 1990:713)[11]. Caused among others by corruption scandals within the parrty and protests against the increasing economical influence of Japan, at the end of the eighties preperations started for further protest demonstrations.

Two also for the Western world until that time unusual multimedia events let the only slowly progressing felt opening up to the West become especially sensible. Denselow states:

1985 was an exceptional year for political pop, the year of 'Live Aid' and 'We are the world', in which for a moment a portion realism and idealism was animating commercial mainstream (Denselow 1991:268)[12].

'Live Aid', organized by Bob Geldof in England, was aimed against the apartheid in South Africa and was broadcasted live as 16 hour double concert out of the Wembley stadium in London and the J.F. Kennedy stadium in Philadelphia with over 45 famous singers and musicians into over 160 countries through TV via satellite on July 13th 1985. The mood influenced even the UdSSR, in which through Gorbatschow, who acceded the office as general secretary a few months earlier, even the Russian band 'Autograf' could participate at the concert via satelitte (Denselow 1991:342)[12]. Even tough world-wide nearly two billion people were 'unified' by this event, it was depressing for China's adolescents, espcially for music friends: 'Not only a few felt lost and humiliated, because the event wasn't allowed to be received in China' (Zhao 1992:123)[4].

In the year 1985 Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson composed the megahit 'We are the World' for the by the UNO initiated 'International year of peace 1986'. The idea also fruited in the PRC, in which the uniting power of music was rerecognized and from now on similar events were organised.[13] Through a cooperation of the 'worker units' of the Chinese Studio Publishing House (Zhonglu Chubanshi) and the Music and Dance Ensemble of the East (Dongfang gewutuan) with the state-owned TV channel in Beijing /Beijing dianshitai) 128 famous male and female singers, under whom also Cui Jian was included by recommendation of a friend (Zhao 1992:125)[4], could be signed for a concert after initial complications. The into all provinces broadcasted concert happened under the name Rang shijie chongman ai (literal: Let the world be full of love) in the Worker's Stadium Beijing on May 9th 1986 and marked a separation from the norms of gangtai music and the beginning of rock music in the PRC (Jin 1989a:32)[14].

The surely for new imitations of gangtai and disco music prepared organisers were quite astonished, when Cui Jian entered the stage in the uniform of a soldier of the People's Liberation Army and hit his guitar. He sang two own compositions, Yiwu suoyou (I have nothing) and Bushi wo bu mingbai (It's not that I don't understand). 'I have nothing' was the song, which not only transcended the aesthetic feeling and the age difference and won the hearts of the people' (Li Yuzhou 1988:28)[15], but which was also the first rock song, that reached the public sphere from the underground and which should become a kind of national anthym for a whole generation of young people.

Cui Jian and 'I have nothing'

I have asked you endlessly, When will you go with me?
But you always laugh at me with, Nothing to my name
I want to give you my dreams, And give you my freedom.
But you always laugh at me with, Nothing to my name.
Ohhh…. When will you go with me?

The earth beneath my feet is moving.
The river beside me is flowing.
But you always laugh at me with, Nothing to my name.
Why do you always laugh at me so?
Why don’t I give up?
Why do you see me as, Forever having nothing to my name?
Ohhh…. Just go with me now!

Solo: Suona

The earth beneath my feet is moving.
The river beside me is flowing.
Listen - I’ve waited so long,
So I’ll make my final request.
I want to grab you by the hands, And take you with me.
Now your hands are trembling, Now your tears are falling.
Perhaps you are saying, You love me with nothing to my name
Ohhh…. Just go with me now.


The earth beneath my feet is moving.
The river beside me is flowing.
Ohhh…. Just go with me now.[16]

With this song, a well-done composition of Chinese melodies and instrumentalisation, in which a strong Western rock rhythm as well as a guitar solo is integrated, 'Cui Jian broke through Chinese composing methods (xiezuo fangshi) in the middle of the eighties' (Li Tianyi 1989:26)[17] Content-wise the song demands two different interpretations: First of all it is the story of a man, who is not loved by the girl he loves, but who is laughed at, because he has nothing.[18] The lyrics are addressing a at that time very actual topic. For the first time the real situation, respectively conflict, of many adolescents, especially of men, was addressed in a by state-owned media broadcasted song. The with the 'have nothing' related problems were mostly a result of the reforms and of the rapidly changing society, in which due to the increasing individualism especially in bigger cities everybody was on taking care of his own situation respectively his own advancing. The 'Four Musts' (bicycle, radio, clock and sewing machine) from Mao's times did not promise social acceptance anymore. Furthermore should also the title of the song, whose four characters are a Chinese saying, be known to most Chinese from another song. In the lyrics of the from French-translated communistic 'International' (song) (1871): 'Don't say, that we have nothing, because we are going to be the lords of the world.'[19] In how far this association can be followed, can be read from the arguments of official criticism of that song: 'The Chinese youth has socialism. How can one say, that one has nothing?' (Bai 1988:94).[20] In the year 1986 this view resembled more than ever utopia, as the following words of a rock musician prove:

We really have nothing. The earlier generation had Mao, what do we have? We have no idol.... Today we have neither idols, nor do we own something; if that is not 'have nothing' (yiwu suoyou), what else is it then? (Zhao 1992:255)[4].

That this relationship (possibly unknowingly) was topiced in Chinese rock music, shows at a concert during the demonstrations in Beijing June 1989 on the Tiananmen square, in which both the 'International' (song) as well as 'I have nothing' were part of a rock concert.[21] A further interpretation of the song concludes itself, when one is basing it on a special interpretation framework:

... a framework of poetics, historically conditioned, which has as one of its characteristics a tendency to look for indirect, yet powerfully oppositional, political statements in ostensibly innocuois lyrics (Brace 1991:54)[22].

Brace further suggest to replace the pronoun 'I' with 'we'.[23] Therefore Cui Jian would speak for a whole generation of adolescents ('We have nothing'), who feels not laughed at by a beloved one, but by the Communistic Party, and thereby also requests this (party), also begs this (party), to listen to the voice of the People, respectively to follow it.

If one understands content and situation of 'have nothing' as a result of the cultural revolution, then the song is the musical equivalence of the at the end of the seventies quite populär 'scar literature' (shanghen wenxue), in which many authors processed their experiences from the cultural revolution:

Full of dramatic art, with great immediateness, with little distance in time young authors tried payoff with the cultural revolution, marked by inner trauma. Without first revealing the deep causes, accusations were made (Müller: 1988:888)[24].

Cui Jian however does not only accuse, he wants to do something, because the hope for a 'Come along' is not sufficient: 'I want to grab you by the hands, And take you with me.' The opposite one is trembling and cries, lets the protagonist sense, that he is possibly only loved, 'because he has nothing.'

The conclusion would be, that in order to be further loved, he is not allowed to have something or have something in future.

Soft consumability and the by the musical element more emotional expression of rock music versus literature are further reasons that this song, as an expression of new 'scar music' (shanghen yinyue) exceeded in influence everything else in this time (Zhao 1992:272)[4]. So, around 100000 adolescents, which movedd enthusiastically southwards to support the construction of the new special economics zone on the island Hainan, said: 'You have to go to Hainan, to understand that song!' Due to government misplanning they found themselves in a situation afterwards, which one of the students described as 'have nothing, look during the day for work and sing songs at night' (Ma Mu 1990:6)[25].

Three years after the release, the expression of the song had to be interpreted as 'we still have nothing'. The resentment about the inequality of economical and politcal reforms resulted on the Tiananmen square in a, in such dimensions not expected, collective expression of 'We have nothing' feeling.

However back to the concert of 1986. The second song, Bushi wo bu mingbai (Not, that I don't understand), reflects the fast pulse of a rapidly changing world:

I never knew what it was to be magnanimous.
I never knew there was so much peculiarity in the world.
The future I’d envisioned is nothing like the present.
Only now does it seem I’m clear about what the future is.
I can’t tell if all the things I’ve done were good or bad.
Past times fade and I can’t recall the years.
The things I thought were simple I now can’t understand at all.
I suddenly feel the world in front of my eyes is not where I really am.
For more than twenty years it seems the only thing I’ve learned is endurance.
No wonder all the women say I’m not genuine.
I shake off the numbness and wake up from the dream.
But upon waking realize how quickly this world has changed.
In the distance rows of tall buildings like fields of wheat.
In front of me oceans of people and traffic jams.
I take it all in from every direction but still can’t grasp the size of it.
This thing and that thing - the more I see the stranger I feel.
It’s not that I don’t understand.
It’s just that the world is changing fast.[26]

This song represented, similar to I have nothing, not only the feeling of the youth but of the whole population. For an interpretation of the song, two levels offer themselves: The protagonist, helpless and without orientation, awakes as of a dream and, according to Cui Jian, realizes that the world is changing rapidly and only China is stagnating in its development (Terrill 1992:26[27]). In other words, Cui sees in the PRC a internally immobile and stiff coloss (due to the power of Confucian traditions), which suddenly looks upon the dynamically developing world. On another level the earlier history of the PRC itself is put in focus. The economical opening is put in line with rapidly changing political guidelines, slogans, cleansing actions and campaigns, whereby on the rapid change it is answered 'Not, that I don't understand, ...'. Jin Zhaojun underlines this interpretation, by stating, that many people of the elder generation expressed, 'that this song is really well written, as it is not, that we already live 40 or 50 years and still haven't understood?' (Jin 1993:214).

The impression of a society rather over-"rolled" by modernisation is supported on the recording by technical sound effects. I.e. in the beginning the weather forecast of Radio Beijing (Beijing tianqi yubao) can be heard, while towards the end of the song revolutionary songs sung in a far distance are hearable. The former one was a synonym for party politics during the time of the cultural revolution (which were as changable as the weather); the latter one is self-explanatory. Both are phased in into the vocal-less parts of the song and is still sensable, however is bing pushed back into the background (and thereby seems to be unimportant and irrelevant) by the everything-overtuning strong rock rhythm and the "funkily"-played guitar (which represent the "New Age").

In how far this music represented the mood of the audience at the concert, can be read from the following observation of Jones:

Within minutes, people were cheering wildly and defying the security guards to dance on their seats. Within days, bootleg tapes of the performance were circulating all over China (Jones 1992b[28]).

In this regard the statement of Yi Mu is realistic when he says that "Cui Jian became the spokesman (daiyanren) of a youth generation and that 'I have nothing' became their manifest (xuanyuan)" and reveals what can be moved with perceived honestly lyrics within the shape of rock music (Yi Mu 1992:11[29]).

The 1986 performed concert (with the slogan "Let the world be full of love") and the two presented songs of Cui Jian heralded a new musical era in the P.R. China, which resulted initially in a renaissance of North Chinese folk songs (beifang min'ge) (Jin 1989a:32[14]) and which spread starting in the North throughout the whole country within the next 2-3 years.[30] "I have nothing" was covered by numerous musical groups due to its musical quality and to many people appealing lyrics; and - irrespective of critical voices - it became one of the most famous songs of the xibei feng (North West Wind) genre (as it got known in the whole country).[31]

Rock music and "North West Wind" (xibei feng)

The people's newspaper defined the new genre in 1988 as follows:

This music takes modern Western rock music - a typical pop music originated under the conditions of industrialisation - and the culture of Chinese, especially North West Chinese folk music - a typical music culture that preserved itself in its isolation - and creates out of both the musical genre "North West Wind": Sinosized Rock Music (Zhongguo minzuhua yaogun) (Jin 1988b:5[32])

This music form triggered, according to Zhou, a "fever for Western songs" (xibu gequ re) and it ended the phase of copying of gangtai songs (Zhou 1988:20[33]). The social significance of the songs is however only revealed once one sees them in a context going farer than the fusion of Western rock music and North West folk music. Xibei feng is the musical equivalent to what also manifests itself as "the search for the roots", i.e. the search for the (lost) Chinese culture, in xungen wenxue (root literature) and within the so called "5th generation" in film. In regards to the literature, Eva Müller states:

This happened under the impression of an erosion of national identity caused by the anti-feudalistic movement of modern literature since the twenties; a 'fracture of the cultural revolution' (Müller 1988:899[24]).

Furthermore, a vaccuum of values, caused by the cultural revolution, and the entry into the "New Age", characterised by disorientation and confusion, drove many intellectuals, as e.g. authors Han Shaogong and Ah Cheng, directors Su Xiaokang, Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimo, towards the origin of Chinese civilization, towards the North Western eolian plateau of provinces Shanxi, Shaanxi and Gansu. This area called Shanbei belongs nowadays to the poorest and roughest parts of China and has been numerously picked out as a symbol for the desolate situation of China.[34]

Musically speaking this turn towards the Shanbei region means a strong typical North Chinese emphasis of rhythmical elements and the use of specific instruments, as e.g. the suona (Chinese oboe). Furthermore, a harsh, loud and often enough screaming-calling alike singing style is added, which separates this musics strictly from the gangtai music. In contrary to the latter, which is being classified as qing yinyue (light music), the new genre found its place in the category jin'ge (powerful songs) (Yang Ruiqing 1988:21[35]). Andrew Jones states about the content:

These lyrics are inevitably set on the loess plateaus of the Northwest, and express a 'roots-seeking' ethos through a contradictory set of desires to return and to escape this landscape and all that it symbolises (Jones 1992a:55[36]).

On the most known songs is Xintianyou, whose title is also the name of a certain form of mountain songs (shan'ge).[37]

Chinese Original Lyrics[38] English Translation[39]

我低头 向山沟

我抬头 向青天



I lower my head towards the mountain valley
and follow the passing time.
in endless distance a sand storm filling the mountain valley.
I can't see my youth any more.

I raise my head towards the blue sky.
seeking the far away past.
In far distance clouds are drifting as per their desire.
nothing has changed.

Great geese listen to my songs,
the small river kisses my face.
The lily blossoms, blossoms and withers away,
again and again.

The earth preserves my dream.
Xintianyou takes my feeling.
At the sky there are only a few stars.
Longing stays forever.

Alternately looking into the mountain valley and into the sky, the bond towards the endless distance of the Shanbei region is being expressed the fact that it has already included the past and also the dreams of the protagonist. Everything is included in it, even the human being has become a part of it, who queues up in the circle of life, 'blossoming and withering away' and driven by longing.[40]

Many songs of the 'Northwest wind' were distributed via the medium film. One of the songs originated in the 1987 movie "The red corn field" (Hong Gaoliang), produced by Zhang Yimo in Xi'an: Meimei, ni dadande wang qian zou (Little sister, bravely move forward):[41]

Chinese Original Lyrics[42] English Translation[43]



Hey... Little sister, bravely move forward, ah!
move forward, don't turn your head.
The great avenue merging with heaven.
Nine thousand nine hundred, Nine thousand nine hundred, ah![44]
Hey... Little sister, bravely move forward, ah!
move forward, don't turn your head.
The great avenue merging with heaven.
Nine thousand nine hundred, Nine thousand nine hundred, ah![44]

Hey... Little sister, bravely move forward, ah!
move forward, don't turn your head.
From now onwards you are going to built a red wedding tower, ah,
throw a red wedding ball, ah,
directly at my head, ah,
I will drink a bowl with you, ah,
red red sorghum liquor, ah,
red red sorghum liquor, ah,
Hey... Little sister, bravely move forward, ah!
move forward, don't turn your head.

In combination with Northwestern music and melody, this lyrics, respectively this song, reflected the customs and tradition of the Shandong province (Li Yuzhou 1988:28[15]). The deeper meaning of the ambiguous invitation, to not turn around, but to bravely move forward towards the future, reveals itself only in connection with the movie itself:

A young woman is being carried by her four carriers in a sedan towards her so far unknown husband, an elderly leprous gentleman. During the journey the depressed bride is longingly looking at the strong and young body of one of the carriers, who, after he was able to catch a glimpse at her soft bound feet is also filled with passion. After the not consummated wedding night she returns home three days later, only accompanied by her father. Said sedan carrier walks unnoticed in a high gaolian field in parallel next to them and begins eventually to sing this song. Shortly afterwards he reveals himself and kidnaps the bride to the field, where she readily gets seduced by him. Afterwards the "singer" kills the husband and a conflict-full, morally difficult love relationship commences.[45]

The rough tone of the song, supported by the powerful-primitive passion, reflected in the singing and in shouting at the end of each line, transmits in connection with the alcohol something original, wild and unpredictable. The riches of the future husband, as pointed out by the father, seem to be unimportant; what counts is the pure and true passion. The ideology of the "seeking the roots" transforms here to a search for the original, orientating itself on the human being. The new ideology, as per Zhang Yingjin, 'can only evolve by circumventing existing political dogma and doctrines. it bethinks itself of the own self - the body' (Zhang Yingjin 1990:48[46]). It is this "ideology of the body", with which one can explain the popularity of film and song in the light of the sexual education at the middle of the eighties, as well as the ambiguous official statements towards this genre.

Nevertheless, first of all the "Northwest wind" counted as a sign of victory over the influence of gangtai music. Themed "First adapt, then overcome!" (Chen 1987:16[47]) a further development of that style was demanded, because "our tape songs (zidai gequ) should have already mastered the adaptation phase, and hence now the overcoming has to take place!"[47]. Other voices sensed the value of the music to be estimated as too high, and they saw rather a fad, as the combination of official sanctioning and strong demand resulted in the situation "that musicians outpoured like a swarm to copy this style and to meet the taste of people" (Zhou 1988:20[33]). Due to that, Han demanded from the musicians that they shouldn't take their inspiration completely from abroad or the "inland", but that they should follow jointly with the local musicians - who "over generations always and again 'dug out' and 'brought into order' the same" - the target to create new ideas (chuangxin) (Han 1988:21[48]).

In the aforementioned article of the People's Newspaper the appearance of the "Northwest wind" is seen as a cultural, musical and simultaneously socio-psychological and economical problem (wenti). According to the article this music is the expression of a new musical mindset, the necessary result of a new generation and its aesthetical needs, as well as the rising symbol of a generation of new composers (Jin 1988b:5[32]). Positively evaluated had been the fact, "that the rock ideology (yaogun siwei) takes up the material of folk music and created out of it a new style' (Jin 1988a:17[49]). The 'Northwest wind wave' (xibei feng gechao) was therefore an expression of loving one's own folk music and thereby tongsu music (Yang 1988:21[35]). Soon after the new wind blew from all directions and placed the (musical) characteristics of the Northwest in the center of composition. "Due to this fact a new phase of freedom (ziyou jieduan) is revealed," as per Li Yuzhou, "in which appears the further meaning of the musical folk character (yinyue minzuxing). (...) The crossing of regions, language barriers and all kinds of bonds reflects the nature of spirit and longing of the people" (Li Yuzhou 1988:28[15]).

The positive echo (also from official side) towards this new genre had several reasons. On the one hand the music expresses the emotions of humans and on the other hand it complies with the aforementioned maoistic formula, as it combines Western "technique" with Chinese "theory". Furthermore this new style was also enthusiastically accepted in Taiwan and Hongkong and gave the P.R. China a modern look (in terms of musical development) abroad. The above mentioned songs and others, e.g. Huangtu gaopo (Yellow high plateau), Wo relian de guxiang (My beloved home) etc. "found not only wide acceptance and enthusiasm, but also leveled a new path for the popularisation (tongsuhua) of the folk music of the country" (Han 1988:20[48]).

Disadvantageous and even called negatively was the (for this music) characteristically "screaming vocals" (hanchang). As such, Tian states:

that the screaming vocals and raucous tones (shaya qiang) cannot be mixed with the tongsu vocals and its wonderful moving songs, in as little as water can be mixed with fire (Tian 1988:22[50]).

He separates mainly three different kinds of 'screaming', in which he sees either the hidden or open expression of sorrow and regret or which he thinks doesn't fit as feeling (ganjue) to the music. In other words, wished for would be more "emotional, smooth and cautious hanchang'" (Tian 1988:23[50]). In the music is included an element of a rebellion against the socially accepted and preset norms, which was evaluated as follows by Jin:

If one says, related to the criticsm of (Chinese) history, that music follows literaturem then today's pop music has already overtaken literature, if it is related to the criticsm of reality (Jin 1988a:17[49]).

An interesting statement, which does not only creates the relationship between pop music and lived reality, but also points to the criticsm of the music, namely the rebellion character (pipanxing) and anti-ideological character (fansixing) which sticks to rock music. The criticsm is being justified by the fact that both attributed "influence the thoughts and emotions of people in relation to history, nationality, state and the realistic life" (Jin 1989b:8[51]). This People's Newspaper published "insight", just a few months after Cui Jian's first solo concert (March 1989), constitutes the first relationship to rock music and has to be understood as a hint on the later officially criticized characteristics of this genre. Therefore negatively ended the official closing statement for "Northwest wind": "Even though there is no deficit of superb songs, one can say, that it constitutes ideologically a step back' ([51]).

Summarising the above, that the first episode of the pioneer phase of Chinese rock music started at the beginning of the eighties with individual band formings and music experiments in the underground. Through a country-wide broadcasted concert, Cui Jian succeeded 1986 with his music to reach the public and to grant the aöready blowing "Northwest wind" further popularity. This wind influenced for ca. 3 years the compositions of tongsu music und changed due to its new emotional and aesthetic qualities the listening habits of people. The sales of over a million tapes within the first half of 1989 revived the music industry, inspired numerous musicians and resulted in several large-scale concerts, e.g. in the Hong gaoliang zhongguo xiangtu gequ yanchanghui (Red corn field and Chinese home country song concert) at the beginning of 1989 (Ling 1989:37[52]).[53] As per an article of the People's Newspaper, such events however visualized the regional differences, which were already thought to be overcome. In April 1989 at a sold out 4500 seat music competition in Guangzhou (Canton) the audience demanded chanting (after three hours "Northwest wind"): 'Sing something well-sounding!' (Zhong 1989:4[54]). This difference should also exist in the future. The "Northwest wind" is expression and basis (at the same time) for the distribution of rock music in the North of the country, whereas south of the Yangzi river still the songs of gangtai music determined the pop musical happening. These regional differences refute the short-lived and too-optimistic statement of Jin Zhaojuns that due to xibei feng after two years (beginning of 1989) finally a conformance has been reached of composer, society and zeitgeist (shidai qingyu) (Jin 1988b:5[55]).

The end of xibei feng resulted 1988 in the (at that point of time only in Beijing's underground) articulated "blossoming period of rock music" (yaogunyue de gaofengqi) (Ding 1994:84[56]). Its presence in public was however in the beginning restricted to the music of Cui Jian.

Cui Jian: Concerts and Conflicts

See also

Remarks by the translator

General remarks

The above translation of the original works were excercised in the best means according to the principle: as close to the original as possible, as free as necessary. The German and English language are tricky ones and whereas in one language there are often numerous words describing a single situation in the other there is plainly one, none or two with not exactly the right meaning. I recommend every able person to also read the German original to catch all respective connotations, but hope that for those not able to read German I have offered a valid English translation.

Therefore, in case of variations between the English translation and the German original, the German original prevails.

In case you have found a better option for a specific translation situation, please do not hesitate to contact the translator.

Referencing and Footnotes

Within the original text two ways of referencing had been used:

  1. Footnotes, in which certain aspects of the text had been explained in prosa form
  2. Citing including referring source information, e.g. (Feigon 1994:127)

For the later form of referring additional references have been included in this translation to make sure, that the referring literature and its bibliographical citation is reflected (for the complete book is spread over several pages). Therefore the original numbering of footnotes is not the same one, as the the reference numbers below.

Additions to the original works

All images, pictures and other graphical works have been added to the translated version by the team of RiC to further utilize the original works and efforts by Mr. Andreas Steen in transferring his work to the digital age and the benefits of digital contents. Examples for the additions are linked articles to complete song lyrics or the portraits of mentioned key persons and bands.


Restricted / Protected Article

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Full Copyright of the original text with Mr. Andreas Steen, translation is not an official version but thought to help understand the original text. Translation was conducted in agreement with Mr. Andreas Steen and Full Copyright applies for it as well. Copying, reproduction, distribution or use in commercial ways is not allowed.


  1. The name Wan Li Ma Wang is a combination of the family names of the four members: Wan Xing, Li Shichao, Ma Xiaoyi, Wang Xinbo (or: Lao Ge, who is today as head of recording of the baidai studios, i.e. EMI, responsible for many rock productions) (Xue 1993:253).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Xue Ji (1993): Yaogun mengxun - Zhongguo yaogunyue shilu (On the search for the hidden dreams in rock music - a catalogue of Chinese rock music), Beijing.
  3. Qiheban is the name for a out of seven pieces consisting Chinese square puzzle, with which several figures can be constructed.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Zhao Jianwei (1992): Cui Jian zai yiwu suoyou zhong nahan - Zhongguo yaogun beiwanglu (Cui Jian's screaming I have nothin - A memorandum of Chinese rock music), Beijing.
  5. Cui Jian yanchang zhuanji: Cui Jian '85 huigu (Cui Jian song selection: Flashback '85), China Record Company, 1994.
  6. Langzi gui was rereleased in August 1989 by 'Gunshi' after the success of the second LP: Langzi gui, BMG Pacific Ltd.
  7. At present he works as producer and planer in the shortly afterwards by the popular texter and friend Liu Zhuohui in Hongkong established record company 'Dadi' (Daidi changpian youxiangongsi), which aim is the distribution of Chinese rock music (Xue 1993:257-259.
  8. Weng Jiaming (1992): Cong Luo Dayou dao Cui Jian (From Luo Dayou to Cui Jiao), Taibei.
  9. Chong, W.L. (1991): 'Young China's Voice of the 1980s: Rock Star Cui Jian', in: China Information, Jg.6, Nr.1:55-74.
  10. At this point it shall be noted, that Cui Jian tries to distance himself from his earlier compositions and refuses to bring these compositions in relation to his later works (Steen 1993). Nevertheless with noting these songs his 'way' is becoming more clear. Furthermore were they newly published and are - if one believes Chinese charts - more popular than his new LP Hongqi xia de dan (Eggs under the red flagg, 1994). In October 1995 reached e.g. the LP Cui Jian: Flashback '85 the third place on the popularity ranking of the in the PRC produced LPs (Yinxiang shijie, 1995, Nr.12:42).
  11. Spence , Jonathan D. (1990): The Search for Modern China, London, Sydney, Auckland, Johannesburg.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Denselow, Robin (1991): The Beat Goes On - Popmusik und Politik, Geschichte einer Hoffnung, Reinbek bei Hamburg.
  13. 'We are the World' was broadcasted 1985 in the 1982 founded series 'Stereo Friends' of the channel Radio Shanghai and immediately afterwards was recorded by ten male and female singers in Chinese with the title Tianxia yi jia. At the same time the music magazine Qin yinyue (Light music) published the lyrics, whereby the song gained further popularity (Hamm 1991:28/29).
  14. 14.0 14.1 Jin Zhaojun (1989a): 'Cui Jian yu Zhongguo yaogunyue' (Cui Jian and the Chinese rock music), in Renmin Yinyue, Nr.: 4:32-33.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Li Yuzhou (1988): 'Hegu 'xibei feng' cong dongnan gualai' (Why the 'Northwest Wind' blew from the Southeast), in Renmin Yinyue, Nr.: 11:32-34.
  16. Note by the translator: This English version was taken from the homepage of Cui Jian, as part of Cui Jian's record Rock'n'Roll On The New Long March, translated by kemaxiu. It slightly varies from the German version as translated by Andreas Steen in his book. For the most appropriate meaning I would refer back to the Chinese version of the song.
  17. Li Tianyi (1989): 'Tongsu gequ heyuan luoru digu?' (What cause the downfall of tongsu music?), in: Renmin yinyue, Nr. 11:26-27.
  18. Note of the translator: Andreas Steen translated the phrase yi wu suo you to "I have nothing", whereas the official translation by kemaxiu is "nothing to my name", hence the different interpretation.
  19. In Chinese: 'Buyao shuo women yiwu suoyou, women yao zuo tianxia de zhuren.'In: Geming lishi gequ jinghua (Selection of songs from the revolutionary history), Shanghai, 1992:1-2.
  20. Bai Jieming (1988): 'Yaogun fanshen le?' (Rock liberates itself?), in: Jiushi Niandai, Nr.: 11:94.
  21. Cui Jian and Tang Chao (Tang Dynasty) arranged a concert on a truck. Cui Jian sang Yiwu suoyou, while Tang Chao sang their, meanwhile on LP released, version of the 'International' (Ding 1994:85).
  22. Brace, Tim (1991): 'Popular Music in Contemporary Beijing: Modernism and Cultural Identity', in: Asian Music, Jg.22, Nr.2:117-146.
  23. A replacement of the pronoun seems already possible due to its absence in the title. In a literal translation this would mean "have nothing" and therefore not point towards any grammatical subject.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Müller, Eva (1988): 'Chinesische Erzählprosa 1977-87', in: Weimarer Beiträge 34, Nr. 6: 885-903.
  25. Ma Mu (1990): 'Yiwu suoyou', yaogun yu touji' ('I have nothing', rock music and opportunism), in: Xiju Shijie, Nr.3-4:2-11.
  26. Note by the translator: Similar to the first song of Cui Jian in this chapter 'I have nothing', this English version was taken from the homepage of Cui Jian, as part of Cui Jian's record Rock'n'Roll On The New Long March, translated by kemaxiu. It slightly varies from the German version as translated by Andreas Steen in his book. For the most appropriate meaning I would refer back to the Chinese version of the song.
  27. Terril, Ross (1992): 'Rocking the Old Guard', in: World Monitor, Nr. 5, 1992:25-28.
  28. Jones, Andrew F. (1992b): 'Beijing Bastards', in: SPIN-Magazin, Volume 8, Nr.7
  29. Yi Mu (1992): Yaogunyue: Zhongguo dalu chuanbojie de sijiao (Rock music: the dead angle in the media of the P.R. China), in: Guoji Xinwenjie, Nr. 3:9-12
  30. As per the notes of Zhao both songs were already released - despite official obstacles - on the tape Baiming gexing yanchang jingxuan (Selection of the Concert of 100 singers), published after the concert, by: Zhonglu publishing house (Zhao 1992:128)
  31. The classification of Yiwu Suoyou as "North West Wind" (even though originally created in the more developed South) (Li Yuzhou 1988:28), is accepted by all critics. Cui Jian himself, however, insists that the song is clearly rock music and he perceives the similarities as rather random (see Brace 1991:52).
  32. 32.0 32.1 Jin Zhaojun (1988b): 'Feng cong nali lai?' (From where blows the wind?), in Renmin Ribao, 23.8.1988:5
  33. 33.0 33.1 Zhou Guimian (1988): 'Hong gaolian yu xibei feng' ('The red cornfield' and 'North West Wind'), in: Renmin Yinyue, Nr. 12:20-21
  34. e.g. in Su Xiaokang's six-part tv movie Heshang (River Elegy), which was broadcasted in the whole country in summer 1988. See also Alice de Jong 1989:28-43.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Yang Ruiqing (1988): 'Miandui xibei feng gechao de sikao' (Thoughts on the wave of North West songs), in: Renmin Yinyue, Nr. 12:21
  36. Jones, Andrew F. (1992a): Like a Knife - Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music, New York, Ithaka.
  37. Especially popular in the Shanbei region. The content reflects mainly love, worker's life in the mountains and in earlier songs the crimes of the old society (jiu shehui). From 1931 onwards, after the 'liberation' through the communists, many Xintianyou were written, which described life in the new society. See also: Zhongguo yinyue cidian (Chinese music dictionary), Beijing, 1984:437.
  38. Xin Tian You, interpretated by Li Na. Lyrics taken from Download Chinese
  39. Translated by the author
  40. Xintianyou: Lyrics: Hou Dejian, Liu Zhiwen; Music: Jie Chengqiang, in: Nanwang de ge (Unforgettable songs), Chengdu, 1992:246-248.
  41. The movie was filmed according the same-titled novel of Mo Yan. Lyrics: Zhang Yimo, Yang Fengliang; melody: Ji Caiping; amongst others on Beifang Gexia (Just songs of the North), Dongfang gewutuan luyingongsi chubanshi (recording studio of the East sing and dance ensemble), 1988.
  42. Lyrics taken from Hudong Wiki
  43. Translated by the author
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 44.3 The number'9' is considered to be a lucky number in China. Here, it stands for - in a funny way - the (wedding-) luck, is however at the same time also to be understood as a hint towards the consumption of alcohol, as the number '9' and 'alcohol' have the same pronounciation in Chinese (jiu).
  45. The song is one of the few tongsu music ones, which was also copied overseas. E.g. by the Taiwanese rock musician Zhao Chuan, Zhao Chuan: Greatest Hits, 'Gunshi', Taibei, 1994.
  46. Zhang Yingjin (1990): 'Ideology of the Body - National Allegory, National Roots, and Third Cinema', in: East-West Film Journal, Volume 4, nr. 2:38-53
  47. 47.0 47.1 Chen Guoquan (1987): 'Tongsu gequ de yishu pin'ge yu chuangxin yishi' (The artistic value and the innovation consciousness of tongsu music), in: Renmin Yinyue, Nr.9:16-18.
  48. 48.0 48.1 Han Yinghong (1988): 'Xibei feng daodi neng gua duojiu?' (How long will the "Northwest wind" eventually blow?), in: Renmin Yinyue, Nr.12:20-21.
  49. 49.0 49.1 Jin Zhaojun (1988a): 'Qingnian liuxing yinyue chuangzuo qunti de xinli fenxi' (Psycho analysis of the composer colony of adolescent pop music), in: Renmin Yinyue, Nr. 8:15-17.
  50. 50.0 50.1 Tian Ding (1988): 'Tongsu gequ zhong de hanchang' (The 'screaming vocals' in tongsu music), in: Renmin Yinyue, Nr.12:22-23.
  51. 51.0 51.1 Jin Zhaojun (1989b): 'Feng xiang hefang qu? Ping xibei feng de hougou' (Where does the wind blow to? About the side effects of "Northwest wind"), in: Renmin Ribao, 24.5.89:8.
  52. Ling Xuan (1989): 'Xibei feng yu qiuge' ('Northwest wind' and prison songs), in: Renmin Yinyue, Nr.5:37-38.
  53. This figure relates to tapes of xibei feng and qiuge (prison songs). The latter, on which I do not want to go in-depth, describes Ling (1989:38) as follows: 'In the beginning these songs describe the inner feelings and the life of prisoners, their psyche, etc. (...) thereafter some got famous and the content changed. Musically the old tongsu melodies were used or also those (melodies) of folk songs.' The unknown songs were released to the market with a new recording with big stars and created a buyer storm due to its 'forbidden and unknown' social background. Professional pirate copiers caused a further distribution of the genre. A good example would be Hei Taiyang (Black sun): Qiu ge: 68-69 zhiqing (Prison songs: Intellectuals of 68-69) (see: Jones 1992a:44).
  54. Zhong Yuming (1989): 'Mantai xibei feng guanzhong bu ai ting' (The audience doesn't only want to listen to "Northwest wind"), in: Renmin Ribao, 14.4.1989:4.
  55. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Jin1988b
  56. Ding Wu (1994): 'Zai meiyou ai de Zhongguo zhangda - mamu de Beijing gei wo chuangzaoyu' (Growing up in loveless China, the emotionless Beijing gave me creative lust), Interview with Ding Wu, in: Jiushi Niandai, Nr.: 12:82-86.