Chapter III - Whose Tongue: Community (Un)meaning (Making sense)

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Chapter III - Whose Tongue: Community (Un)meaning (Making sense)

Draft transcribed version


General information

Original works author: Jeroen Groenewegen

Original works title: Tongue - Making sense of Beijing underground rock, 1997-2004

Universiteit Leiden

Talen en Culturen van China

Jeroen Groenewegen


March 18th 2005

a pdf version can be found here:


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Fig. 3.1. Tongue on the cover of the issue of Rock 􄗮􀖫􂄠􁳆 in which Yan Jun’s article “If Tommorrow Comes” is published.
Then we went to the guest house and opened Sub Jam.[1] “Whose Tongue? What is this? We are not ‘Whose Tongue’ !” Wu Tun, with his head hanging and with a knife in his hands, goes out, cutting the characters ‘whose’ out of every copy of Spring of New Music ‘98. [Guitar player] Zhu Xiaolong thinks for a while, then asks me: “How many copies did you make?” I say 5000. He loses all hope. Nobody utters a word, they help me pack the booklets. Wu Tun is even more silent, I thought this guy is autistic, if he can speak it must be slow and in half sentences. His small eyes rolling, I thought he saw me as an enemy. Then Qiu Dali arrived, he is more one-of-us 􃞾 􁏅 􀒎 than me. He convinced Tongue I was one-of-us.[2]

This quotation from Yan Jun’s article “If Tomorrow Comes: A Pre-Bio of Tongue” 􀘛􀽖􁯢􀻽􁴹 􀐈—􀄀 􃟠 􀼈 􀄁 􀠡 􀓴 (2002) shows the importance of the insider-outsider opposition in direct relation to Tongue. The quotation is set in April 1998, when Yan Jun met Tongue for the first time and presented Spring of New Music ’98 to them. At the time Yan Jun had recently put together Spring of New Music ’98, a booklet that is an important source in its own right, because it coincides with the beginning of underground rock criticism. Because Tongue did not know Yan very well and because Yan had made a mistake by printing Whose Tongue as Tongue’s band name, the members of Tongue started wondering if they should accept Yan as one-of-us. The question was so important that Yan mentions it explicitly in the quotation above.

I use this term one-of-us rather than insider because one-of-us adequately brings the problematic relationship between the individual and the group to mind. In the personal atmosphere of relations between the critic and the band in the quotation above the tension both between individual (I) and group (us/we) and between insider (us) and outsider (them) is clear.

In this chapter I investigate social interaction in the underground rock community of Beijing 1997-2004 and its close surroundings in society. In chapter one I argued that a performance is the social activity of making music and that all rock-related people and institutes are active in the experience of a rock performance in the broad sense. I also compared this process to a game, involving social interaction, joy, gain, players and (flexible) rules. In this chapter I focus on the social environment that influences the production and reception of rock music. I argue that in this environment the dichotomy between us and them is central.

I discern roughly four steps in the development of the underground rock community Beijing 1997-2004. First, there was a sufficient number of rockers that wanted to be heard but found themselves ignored by the establishment, both in terms of popular culture (mainstream pop, leading to financial gain) and in terms of impact on the intellectual and/or political elite (leading to fame). Second, as these people found mutual acknowledgement, a consciousness of us as a solidarity group was born. Third, this us developed a more or less stable identity through the name underground rock. Fourth, more people joined the underground rock community because it became a source of acknowledgement in its own right.

My elaboration of step two, the step that actually propels the development of the underground community, focuses on the terms mutual acknowledgement and solidarity. Mutual acknowledgement is a translation of rentong 􄅸􀧠, which means ‘to identify with’ or ‘to recognize something similar in’. From the viewpoint of the members of the underground, identification meant mutual acknowledgement and was the basis of trust and communication. Solidarity is a translation of tuanjie 􀲶􃒧, which means ‘unite’. I have chosen to translate it with solidarity because interviewees used tuanjie to refer to a situation in which people were supporting each other financially and emotionally, rather than to uniformity of ideological or musical preferences.

The four steps above are schematic; reality is much more complex and contingent, as my analysis will show. In the next two sections I elaborate on the term underground, as used in general in China and as used in relation to this specific community. In section 3.3 I present another frame, this time more historical, by introducing the precedents of the underground rock community from 1993 onwards. Only in section 3.4 I do start with the concrete history of the community and the role Tongue played in it.

Throughout this chapter I show that this history and biography contain many complex and contingent elements, but also that the underground community has the mindset of thinking in a dichotomy of us and them and the dual endeavor of building a community and relating to society (the government, the market, The People).

The Underground As Cultural Product

The term underground 􀴄􀏟 is widely used in China, long before 1997. In China underground, together with several other terms, is one segment of the broad spectrum of cultural products. This spectrum positions cultural products in society, and reflects interpretation, valuation and consumption. Some of the related terms are mass 􀻻􀓫, popular 􄗮􀖫/􂌕􃸠, people’s 􂇥􄯈, (un)official (􄴲)􁅬􁮍, (non)mainstream (􄴲)􀐏􂌕, and avant-garde 􀜜􄫟/􀠡􀤿 culture. Many of these terms overlap, both with each other and with underground. They are also flexible enough to be applied to Chinese culture in very different ways. Many of the terms are Chinese translations of non-Chinese terms, term that have been applied in new ways and acquired new connotations. In this section I will show the political and culturallinguistic complexity of these terms by sketching the broad outlines of discussions they call to mind.

The definition of underground literature in Maghiel van Crevel’s Language Shattered (1996) tends towards the unofficial:

The term underground literature (dixia wenxue) as used in the PRC may refer to straightforward and not necessarily literary indictments of the ruler as well as to innocuous love poems. It is a catchall for texts produced – handwritten, mimeographed, photocopied, printed, etc. – and distributed through other than official, government-sanctioned channels. Over the years it has come to cover heterogeneous writings: some would get their author in political trouble if made public, others have remained officially unpublished simply because no one in a position to publish them found them interesting enough.[3]

Unofficial, non-mainstream and underground are defined ex negativo: they are not the official, mainstream or overground culture. The result is a dichotomy between what I call the unaccepted cultural forms – unofficial, non-mainstream, underground and also avant-garde – and the accepted cultural forms – official, mainstream, overground and establishment.

This dichotomy begs the question ‘accepted or unaccepted by whom?’ The answer to this question is important because it has consequences for the definitions of all the unaccepted cultural forms.

In China in the last years of the 20th century and the first of the 21st century, my answer is ‘the state-influenced cultural market’. In In the Red Barmé gives a persuasive view of the flexibility and power of the state in the process of cooption of cultural products, as well as its dependence on the market.[4]

However, the question could also be answered with ‘the state’. This answer provokes a second discussion: that on the nature of the term unaccepted. That the state does not ‘accept’ something might mean that it is simply disinterested, but also that it is repressive. I put accept in the previous sentence in quotation marks because maybe the dichotomy that I use to address this discussion, accepted versus unaccepted, is already biased towards an active and maybe even conscious decision on the part of the state, while the whole process of getting state (or market) support is rather unpredictable.[5]

The insight that the decision to accept is not always based on rational judgment does not make the question whether the state represses or not irrelevant. This second discussion about whether state-unacceptance is a sign of state-repression or a sign of state-disinterest conceals a constant danger of slippage between the unaccepted and the anti-accepted. When the discussion polarizes, the unofficial could be interpreted as the anti-official, the nonmainstream as the anti-mainstream and the underground as the anti-overground. This part of the discussion makes the political consequences of any definition of an unaccepted cultural product clear. At least until today every definition in the Chinese cultural spectrum has to deal with the role of the government as well as with the often subtle difference between unaccepted and anti-accepted.

These discussions can be seen in definitions of contemporary Chinese popular culture. Often the distribution of power between state and The People (market) is the source of debate. The discussion in this area is also fueled by the abundance of terms in Chinese that can be translated as popular.

Dazhong 􀻻􀓫 means mass as in mass communication, mass media. It is a very political term related to propaganda.

Tongsu 􄗮􀖫 and liuxing 􂌕􃸠 both mean popular in the sense of popular music. Tongsu, a combination of tong, ‘wide-spread’ and su, ‘low-brow’ or ‘local custom’, is closer to common, while liuxing is closer to fashionable, and can be used for diseases that spread easily or quickly. The main difference between the terms can be found in political history; the popular music that developed in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s under the influence of foreign presence and a flowering nightlife was called liuxing. The Communist labeled this yellow music pornographic, decadent and imperialistic, and sought to replace it: after they came to power in 1949 they propagated the term tongsu which stressed more folk and lowbrow aspects of pop. The net result is that in post-1978 China these terms coexist and are often interchangeable.[6]

Minjian 􂇥􄯈, with its connotations of The People 􀒎􂇥, can be translated as popular but also as the people’s, among the people or folk. The term implies a remoteness from central power and politics that equally holds for everyman in the countryside and the city. Therefore it can be an opposite of official, even though it appears in the names of not a few official, institutionalized bodies and publications.

To me, underground rock operates in the margins of popular culture. When an underground rock band becomes popular in the sense of liuxing they become mainstream rock and are usually not seen as underground anymore. Underground rock is rock that is not (yet) accepted by mainstream popular culture. This assumption runs counter to representations in which pop and rock are antagonistic. Those representations tend to see liuxing pop as a modern type of dazhong, ‘(propagandistic, top-down) mass culture’ and rock as minjian, ‘of the people (bottom-up)’. This dichotomy politicizes and polarizes the cultural spectrum, dividing it in official (state) and unofficial (society), and dramatizes the differences between pop and rock.[7] By dramatizing I mean to say that these differences and antagonisms are there, but that by focusing on them we exaggerate them and neglect the many similarities.

For underground literature, Van Crevel points out that it is too heterogeneous to be defined on the basis of content, let alone contained by (either side of) the state-society dichotomy. Underground rock is equally diverse. If we stay on the level of mainstream society, the underground may from the outside seem unified and clearly identifiable, but once we zoom in it becomes clear that underground rock is by no means unified: it is the combination of the peripheries of several genres and changes with time and place of the performance and even with the viewpoint and position of the interpreter (audience, researcher).

My use of the underground not only refers to underground rock, but also to an underground rock community, and a specific underground rock community at that: that of Beijing 1997-2004. The underground rock community brings along the unity and shared identity required for subversion of mainstream Chinese culture, but also, as I will show in the next section, a sense of independence from society. Precisely because we are talking about an underground community, it is not obsessed with acceptance by the state or the market anymore; it generates its own cultural capital and practice of legitimacy (or acceptance) instead.

The Ones-of-us: The Underground Rock Community

The underground rock community has a positive identity, and does not only exist ex negativo as something unofficial, non-mainstream or peripheral (non-central). In this section I will investigate the early parameters of the identity of the underground rock community. The above four-step model provides a theoretical framework that makes it possible to interpret these events.

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Fig. 3.2. Cover of Hao Fang’s Radiant Nirvana.

A major event in the period studied is the suicide of Kurt Cobain, the frontman of the Seattle grunge rock band Nirvana, in 1994. The music and behavior of Nirvana influenced the Chinese rock scene thoroughly.[8] In 1997 Hao Fang published Radiant Nirvana: The Life of Kurt Cobain 􂙓􂚖􂍙􁾗􀋖􂾥􂡍􁷃􁴀􂱘􀏔􂫳 which was widely read. It is remarkable that Hao Fang could write an original biography based on material in English without ever having to leave Beijing. This proves the importance of the internet and the impact of globalization in this period.[9] Cobain’s rejection of rock stardom, the DO IT YOURSELF-attitude of Nirvana, the cultural and geographical periphery of the grunge-hotbed Seattle and Nirvana’s explicit glorification of the small but true underground scene can all be seen as feeding into the underground community Beijing 1997-2004. Yan Jun writes:

In 1997 Hao Fang’s biography of Kurt Cobain came out, and the whole underground spirit represented by Nirvana became reality in an exaggerated way. By this time, explaining to others “we are an underground band” already seemed very respectable.[10]

Yan Jun links rock to unprofessionalism:

Yan Jun: “After [Tongue] recorded their first album,[11] you could see that underground rock in the whole scene rapidly became an extremely popular 􂛁 􄮼 word in one or two years. Because I and someother people were writing about this, we were all writing underground rock with all our might.[12] We were also organizing shows, like Sun Mengjin who did some shows in Shanghai. He really had a hard time doing those shows, it really was not easy, losing money all the time, using his own money, earning not a cent, and then inviting [the bands] for dinner.
First we should talk about that time. At that time Chinese youngsters needed these things. … They needed a kind of breakthrough 􃁕􂸈, needed a breakthrough to rise out of the oppression 􀥟 􁡥 , besides, the previous concepts of rock music let them down. For instance, Tang Dynasty did not have anything new, a lot of Beijing rock [bands] did not have anything new, and they had less and less content. Rock was saying it was a kind of resistance, but there was not any feeling that made us feel we could resist. Anyhow, when so-called underground rock emerged, you could see that every city could have people making music. In other words, rock is not a… in a very short period we pulled the technical standards of rock down, everyone could do it. Everybody was talking about punk, everybody could fucking play some music, everybody could resist, everybody could choose to live his or her own life. Under these circumstances everyone was very excited about the idea of underground rock, underground culture, the idea to get rid of mainstream life.”
Jeroen Groenewegen: “DO IT YOURSELF?”
Yan Jun: “Yes, in a couple of years all these things had arrived, it was as if we suddenly saw the light. But we should be clear about this: these things do not have a hell of a lot to do with music. Music is put in the first place, but behind it is life, fucking freedom, all of that. For instance, it is fucking leaving your home, it is sex, it is looking for a job, wearing other clothes than other people, that sort of thing. So the reason why Tongue became heroes is also here. Including the fact that their music was the best, of all these bands their music was most perfect. Moreover, Chinese youths of those years needed this kind of music, absolutely this kind of music. Not happiness, but pain exploding into a sort of liberation 􃾷􁬒, release 􄞞􁬒.”[13]

Underground rock took pride in unprofessionalism, and shunned rock stardom. This made underground rock different from previous generations, and opened the possibility for creating a subculture with positive characteristics that was in some ways independent from or indifferent to the mainstream.

An important source of articles by authors that wrote on underground rock with all their might, pulling the technical standards of rock down, is Sub Jam: Spring of New Music ’98. As noted in chapter two, it is dedicated to Allen Ginsberg, who is quoted on the front and back covers. Inside, fifteen underground bands from all over China are introduced, of which PK14, Punk God 􂲬􀦸, SMZB 􂫳􀩑􀐟􄽐 and (Whose) Tongue became most famous. The booklet is the result of an unsuccessful attempt of Yan Jun to organize a rock festival in his hometown Lanzhou with four local bands and eleven bands from all over China. Yan Jun passed the demo tapes he received from these bands on to the famous South Chinese rocker Wang Lei who managed to organize the “Guangzhou Independent Rock Music Festival” in April 1998, in which Tongue played, discussed below.[14]

In its twenty-six pages, the booklet contains contributions by critics from a number of places in China. These contributions vary from updates on the state of local rock scenes to combined summaries/manifestos on what rock abroad is and what it should be in China, by critics such as Hao Fang, Yan Jun and Sun Mengjin. The booklet also contains an article by Zuoxiao Zuzhou, the lead singer of NO, on the (difficult) recording process of their first album The Missing Master 􄍄􀼅􂱘􀐏􀒎 which at the time was about to come out in Hong Kong and abroad, but not within the borders of mainland China.[15]

In his contribution on page 1 called “Underground Singing: Dawn Will Eventually Come” 􀴄􀏟􀐟􂄠􀬅􀋖􅒢􁯢􃒜􁇚􀓮􀠄􁴹,[16] Hao Fang sees the history of rock as the constant accommodation of underground music into the mainstream:

[U]nderground in the real sense is one of the achievements of punk. Since in the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s organized underground music scenes appeared, … all these underground song scenes eventually split into two forces: some people joined the market … they did not have anything to do with underground.
The others never abandoned the basic concepts of punk or independence, and just maintained their inner impulse and true emotions. Because they ignored the basic problems [or: needs] of life, these people could always submit to the will of Heaven. In the state of emerging and perishing on its own accord, it is inestimable how many talents (real or self-acclaimed) disappeared for ever.
…, and true underground song performance entails an instinctive release full of creativity and surprises. Instant pleasure and communication are its circumstantial evidence; demolishing myth, symbols 􃃺􂷕 and fake ignorance is its purposeful carnival. In the ideal underground song, music returns to that which is most directly pure and enchanting.[17]

Like Yan, Hao turns the hierarchy professional/unprofessional around, and glorifies the direct and enchanting impulse of DIY over market-directed perfection. The underground is pictured as a wild, violent even, as carnival of creation: the danger is tamed when bands join the mainstream. A similar image can be found in Yan Jun’s “If Tomorrow Comes”:

Later Zhang Xiaozhou called Tongue, Punk God, The Fly 􃢡􃴛 and NO the four heavenly kings of underground rock. This strand of thought is questionable, because underground rock is a group thing, to pick out one or another represents seems to be too much like advertisement. Zhang Xiaozhou, however is one-of-us, it does not matter whether he understands this or not, because time will tell. The Devil Kings took their courage to resist the gods and assembled in the underground, but it was not as simple as a struggle for their lost paradise – clearly the main reason was that they were all very fierce 􂣯, had a staunch attitude, dangerous thoughts and fresh music.[18]

Zhang Xiaozhou compares underground rock bands to the four heavenly kings of Cantopop, namely Liu Dehua (Andy Lau), Zhang Xueyou (Jacky Cheung), Guo Fucheng (Aaron Kwok) and Li Ming (Leon Lai). In this parody Cantonese pop is ridiculed, but at the same time a similar system of heroes is installed in underground rock, something which Yan attacks. By using the Buddhist expression Devil Kings 􅄨􂥟, Yan changes the image of heavenly kings who sit on top of the world into demons who are constantly fighting paradise from the underworld. Next to moving Tongue, Punk God, The Fly and NO out of a comfortable centre and into the trenches, Yan undermines the hierarchy even more by writing that it is not the goal of these bands to take over paradise (or any centre of power). The underground musicians are not struggling in order to be accepted by the mainstream, but see the struggle as a means in itself.

Yan Jun pardons Zhang because he is one-of-us: such are the privileges of insiders. This term also points to the second reason Zhang Xiaozhou called Tongue, Punk God 􂲬􀦸, The Fly 􃢡􃴛 and NO the four heavenly kings of underground rock: the emergence of an underground community. Yan Jun:

The other reason was that they started to form a force, from individual relations to group responsiveness 􀦡􀪡, they were all like that. NO and The Fly often consisted of the same musicians, Tongue and NO also started to establish ties.[19] After Tongue returned in Beijing [after playing at the “Guangzhou Independent Rock Music Festival” in April 1998] it was the phase in which underground rock did not waste words anymore and just rushed to the surface. … Tongue was in the midst of this, and tasted the sweetness of the power of solidarity 􀲶􃒧. In their friends, they discovered a world that could not be left isolated.[20]

The underground rock community is a world based upon solidarity. This world has a shared identity or group image and is a source of strength for its members.

Besides these internal workings, the underground community also negotiates a position vis-à-vis the outside world. The relation between us and them is subtle; by its very existence the underground rock community can be seen as an alternative to and a judgment of the outside world. Yan Jun writes:

Many years later I started to ponder about the evolution of underground rock, and suddenly I thought that if there had been no identification with a kind of life style, if there had been no judgment of the music esthetics and things of the outside world, what could have brought everybody out of their underground basements[21] as like-minded spirits to build a new world? It was an underground world, and was not replaced by the over-ground. Idealism was already beginning to be used by others, changed into an excuse: it could not any longer be used to explain the drive of Tongue or underground rock—[22]

How members of the underground should behave towards the outside world is an issue of group ethics. Ethics are very important in the underground rock community. I will return to their importance in 3.8. Here I will elaborate on the situation in which these ethics and ideals are employed.

The ideals of the underground rock community constantly run the risk of ossifying. In Hao Fang’s account the underground generates new ideas while society incorporates rock into its markets. This is a constant conflict between creation, which opens possibilities, and production, which tends towards definite versions and closes off possibilities. Yan Jun writes that Tongue is aware of the dilemma between having ideals and the ossification of ideals, between having an identity and becoming mythified:

Tongue are not those in command 􃗕􀻻, who idly reap what others have sown. On the contrary, after maturing they must contradict themselves, and together with the new youths discover the new new world.
From 2000 until today [2002], when Tongue is faced with the danger of becoming mythified as the heroes of Chinese underground rock, they wisely made a detour, and do not let a hidden psychology alienate them into idols – every environment of communication, even the underground, has vanity, fakes, catering [to ulterior purposes], compromises and profits that can be raised. The members of Tongue one after the other moved to [the rock village in the outskirts of Beijing] Huoying, and continue their former lives, continue to perform and coming together for drinking parties in the small courtyards.[23]

According to Yan Jun, underground rock should and does change over time. The negotiation between participants over the nature of the underground fits in well with my model of performance as a game whose rules are defined by the key players. The struggle over the boundaries and rules of communication changes constantly, ethics and ideals are central but cannot be pinpointed.

I conclude that underground rock has a twofold character. It has a focus on us, a dayto-day community based on mutual acknowledgement and solidarity, and a focus on the relation between us and them, a relation based on differences and antagonism. Both these foci are at stake in the game of underground performance in the broad sense, that is: ‘who is us’ and ‘how does us relate to them.’

The History of Underground Rock 1993-1997

According to the quotations above, the underground rock community was born after April 1998 (after Tongue performed in Guangzhou) or around June 1999 (when Tongue recorded their first studio album). In the same and other texts Yan Jun locates the charge of underground rock in the period 1997-1999.[24] I call this the early period of underground rock. Its advent coincides with a relaxation in the political climate after the CCP plenum of 1997.[25] However, the changes in the Chinese rock music were put in motion long before 1997.

Since 1992 or 1993 so-called saw-cut or dakou 􁠧􀦷 tapes, and later CDs, were illegally imported and sold in China. De Kloet quotes personal correspondence with Yan Jun on this topic:

Dakou – sometimes called “saw-cut” – products originated from major American and Canadian record distributors and wholesalers. During regular stock clearance exercises, they gather up unsold stocks in their warehouses and cut them, normally with a saw … The resultant plastic garbage is sold to recyclers for processing. They are also bought up and smuggled to China.[26]

Yan Jun estimates that by the time the import-line through the South Chinese province Guangdong in 1998 started drying up, a total number of almost two million CDs had been imported.[27] These albums were the source of foreign music, since they were cheap, uncensored and the saw-cut or drill-hole usually only damaged one song.

The youth that grew up listening to these cassettes and CDs are called the dakou or saw-cut generation, in which saw-cut symbolizes an interest in foreign culture (globalization and/or Americanization), the power to define the value of items in spite of common sense, and an attitude of living on the borders of the permissible.[28] The saw-cut generation was living off American trash, and used it for their own ends.

Yan Jun recalls this generation in “Goodbye, Saw-cut Generation” 􀝡􃾕􀋈􁠧􀦷􂱘􀏔􀒷:[29]

If China did not have any youth culture in the past, then it did have one since the saw-cut 􁠧􀦷 generation. Through rock or not through rock they got their own language, their own value-system, their own entertainment and their own form 􁔶􀚣 … Before them was the generation of broken ideals, after them was the generation that got freedom. And they, they carried the energy 􂇨􁙃 of youth and got sawcut 􃹿􁠧􀑚􀦷. It was a bit crazy and a bit sad, the generation that stubbornly changed fate.[30]

In 1993 the Beijing Midi School of Music 􀣫􀒀􄗋􃃯􄷇􀐤􁄺􁷵 opened its doors at the Shuang’an Building near The People’s University.[31] It offered a three-month course in the basics of rock and blues, taught by famous musicians from the Beijing rock scene, Tang Dynasty, Breathing 􀩐􀨌 and the like. Zhang Fan (b. 1967, Beijing) became Dean in late 1993. Zhang had studied trade at Capital University of Economics and Business, and had started playing guitar in high school, around 1983. Midi School, partly financed by the Midi Company, imported and translated the teaching material themselves, and encountered a lot of problems because of lack of experience, frequent relocations throughout Beijing and funding difficulties.

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Fig. 3.5. Zhang Fan, Dean of the Beijing Midi School of Music.

In May 1997 they moved to a grammar school in the commercial and industrial development area Shangdi in the northwest of the capital and started a two-year course that also incorporated jazz. The school had learnt about jazz through a yearly international jazz festival first held in Beijing in 1994. Every year six to eight bands of the festival would come to the school for master classes. The Midi School had established ties with music schools abroad (mainly in Japan, Australia and Scandinavia) to which they sent students and teachers.

Since the school was the first of its sort and had a good reputation, it attracted many aspiring musicians from all over China. Yan Jun opens his book Undergroundground 􀴄􀴄􀏟(2002) with a chapter on the history of Chinese rock called “Iron Blood or Robber Sweat: Looking Back at Ten Years Rock.” 􄪕􃸔􁟪􂲫􂈫􀋖􄗑􁖚􀤕􁑈􁨛􂒮.[32] In this chapter Yan focuses on the marginalized development of Chinese rock rather than on the appearance of rock stars and bands such as Cui Jian and Panther 􅒥􄉍 in mainstream culture. He opens the section “My out-of-town accent” 􁟥􂱘􀻪􀴄􀦷􄷇[33] with the following sentence:

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Fig. 3.6. Logo of The Beijing Midi School of Music.
The large scale movement of musicians from outside Beijing into the capital began with the founding of the Midi School in 1993.[34]

In the same section Yan also writes:

The largest contribution of Midi is, in addition to generally improving the quality of a generation of musicians, helping students from a variety of places to get to know each other and forming an extensive network of contacts that is rejected by the centre. If it would change its name into Midi Music Association 􃘨􄇞􀓮, I think nobody would object.[35]

These relatively poor students lived together and rehearsed in small and dilapidated places, first in artist villages such as the one close to the former Winter Palace 􀳚􁯢􀳁 and later in a former peasant village in the northern suburbs of Beijing called Tree Village 􁷥􁴥 and the neighboring Dongbeiwang 􀏰􀣫􁯎.

The background of these out-of-town musicians is very different from that of the Beijing youths that had dominated the rock scene so far. In the capital poor people from rural areas or smaller cities are called waidi 􀻪􀴄􀒎, out-of-towners, and are frequently portrayed as having no culture, that is, being uncivilized.

Both saw-cut CDs and the Beijing midi school of music stimulated the growth of rock musicians in China and in the capital, until by 1997 number of rockers was sufficient for the advent of the underground rock community.

Tongue and Early Underground Rock 1997-1999

Tongue arrived in all of this when they moved from their home-ground Urumqi in the far western province Xinjiang (‘Chinese Turkestan’) to Beijing in September 1997. All members had been to Beijing before[36], and several had lived there. Drummer Li Dan (b. 1975, Changji 􁯠􀧝, Xinjiang) and guitar player Zhu Xiaolong (b. 1973, Changji, Xinjiang) had taken the three-month course at Midi in 1995 and 1994 respectively. Zhu Xiaolong had lingered after his three-month course, but it was difficult to start playing in bars without knowing the right people. After a year of practicing guitar, meeting people and going to rock shows Xiaolong ran out of money and went back to Xinjiang. Wanderer-by-nature Wu Tun (b. 1972, Urumqi, Xinjiang) had traveled to the capital in search of saw-cut tapes in 1994 and 1995.[37] They all stayed in the vicinity of the Winter Palace, but at the time did not know each other.

In Xinjiang, Li Dan had passed the exam to become percussionist in a theatre troupe 􄈿􀠻, just like his father, and drew a government salary. Zhu Xiaolong and bass player Wu Junde (b. 1972, Urumqi, Xinjiang) worked in factories (chemistry and oil, respectively).

These factories also attracted university students from central China, who brought guitars and pop music. Zhu Xiaolong and Wu Junde started playing in cover bands with some of these students while they were working at their factories. Wu Tun, his brother, keyboard player Guo Dagang (b. 1970, Urumqi, Xinjiang), and guitar player Li Hongjun (b. 1970, Urumqi, Xinjiang) played in cover bands as well. These bands mainly covered pop songs as well as a few Western and Beijing mainstream rock songs (several songs by Cui Jian[38], Panther and others) at parties and weddings, which provided an income.

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Fig. 3.8. Tongue (early period).

Tongue was founded in Urumqi as a cover band somewhere in the beginning of the 1990s. Of the earliest members only Wu Junde is part of Tongue today.[39] Zhu Xiaolong joined in 1995 after he got back from Beijing. By the time of the Chinese New Year of 1997 both Tongue and Wu Tun and Li Hongjun’s band Tribe 􄚼􃨑 had internal problems. During the New Year celebrations the four men, who lived not far from each other and had heard about each other in the small music scene in Urumqi, met and decided to join forces. They called Li Dan, who came from the same town as Zhu Xiaolong, and Guo Dagang, and the six members started a new phase of Tongue.

Tongue practiced and lived in a house Wu Junde’s father had just built. It was next to the oil plant Wu Junde used to work in and some two hours from Urumqi. The band rehearsed daily, it was an extremely productive period. After half a year they decided to take over the capital. Yan Jun said:

At the time they had the courage to come to Beijing to resist. To a lot of things in Beijing they were like this [gives the finger]. ‘These things I cannot stand, I have arrived, I come to challenge you.’ During the Mid-autumn Festival, I do not know which member of Tongue told me: “back then we came to Beijing to improve the hearts 􁖗􃛣 of the people of the capital. I came to challenge.”[40]

They did not only come to Beijing to challenge central power, both politically and culturally (the term Beijing rock was starting to provoke skepticism outside the city), but also because the record industry, music education, rock venues and the majority of the audience were all concentrated in the capital. As Zhu Xiaolong put it in a conversation:

So we all knew that it was easier to get shows in Beijing, there were more opportunities. At the time in the whole of China it was all like that, everybody wanted to rehearse a few songs and go to Bejing, nothing else. It was all [about] coming to Beijing: Beijing, Beijing, Beijing.
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Fig. 3.9. Tongue at an oil factory.

Despite these opportunities, the first couple of months in Beijing were very difficult. Zhang Fan let Tongue, as well as other student and graduate bands, practice for free in basements at Shangdi, where the Midi School had moved only half a year before.[41] The six members of Tongue lived together in a single room on bunk beds, and did nothing but rehearse.

The problem was to get shows. In 1997 and early 1998 it was relatively quiet in the rock scene and if bar owners did not know a band name they did not dare to take the risk of putting them on stage. The band members of Tongue took turns to go to bars with the demo tape and finally got a few shows at small bars like Yamen 􀑮􁹺 and Mangfeng 􁖭􃳖 in late 1997 and early 1998.[42] Things changed when Tongue’s performance in May 1998 at the Guangzhou Independent Rock Music Festival was a success, and Cui Jian performed with them in August, November 1998 and March 1999.[43]

But before we move on with the story, I want to dwell on life in Tree Village. Tongue rehearsed in Tree Village in 1998, and moved to Dongbeiwang by the end of 1999. Pushed further and further into the Northern suburbs by the demolishing vehicles of city-planning that destroyed Tree Village and Dongbeiwang, Tongue moved to Huoying in the summer of 2002, on the remote Northern outskirts of Beijing.[44]

Life in Tree Village and Dongbeiwang was either in the rehearsal room or outside. At first Tongue lived together. Later they had separate rooms, but still used the public toilets and baths, or bathed in the lake at Tree Village. Wu Tun did not want to have his own place, but sometimes stayed in a shack he built against Guo Dagang’s house, lived in the practicing space or stayed with friends (such as the painter and PAINTER Zhu Jintong), especially during the cold Beijing winters. All in all, there was little private space in Tree Village, which contributed to the sense of community. Shanghaiese rock critic, radio host, concert organizer, poet and artist Sun Mengjin says about his experiences in Tree Village[45]:

I went [to Tree Village] in 1999 and it was extremely comfortable. You know why? There was a lot of solidarity 􀲶􃒧 really a lot of solidarity. Mainly because in 1997 the underground had just begun; the period between 1997 and 1999 was the most hopeful period. One thing is the mutual acknowledgement 􄅸􀧠 of a way of life, basically they all did not have jobs, no means to guarantee their existence 􂫳􂌏􁮴􂊩􀖱􄆕, they depended on the little money they got from performing, depended on the help of friends, or from parents. I think this attitude is very good for rock, because you need to practice playing guitar etc. … The vibe 􂢊􁗕 of that time was really good, it was hopeful, very positive, extremely positive. What impressed me deepest was, when I went there in 2000 that they had a custom 􀐴􁛃 of buying each other dinner. Tongue went to Shanghai to play and earned a few hundred RMB, it was only a few hundred. When they went back they bought dinner. The restaurants there were very cheap, sometimes they would occupy several tables. When I went there and they heard about it – because maybe we have more money than they have, a steady income because of our jobs – they would say: Sun Mengjin arrived, and then thirty, forty people would come. The people I did not know would be introduced, one after the other. Everybody would be drinking and talking. That vibe is very free. To them, if there would be someone that bought them dinner every day, they could live! (Laughter) They were all like that, including Wu Tun, he often did not have any money. Even nowadays, these things are not becoming better easily.[46]

The image of young people struggling together under dire circumstances is easily romanticized, as for instance in Yan Jun’s essay “Record of Utopia” 􀐠􁠬􄙺􃑾􀑟 (written around 1999).[47] In 2001 Yan Jun rectifies his title with another article, called “No, Tree Village is not Utopia” 􀏡􀋈􁷥􁴥􀏡􁰃􀐠􁠬􄙺 in which he demythifies underground rock by stressing the hard reality and anonymity of the daily life.[48]

Sun Zhiqiang’s documentary Borders of Freedom 􃞾􂬅􂱘􄖍􃓬: 􂆩􃂳􁟥􀓀􄖬􂌏􀳼􄖭􀏾􀏪􂬠􀏞􀋈􄖭􀏾􀶢􁏖􂱘􄖍􃓬 (recorded in October 2000, published in 2001), gives a good overall impression of life in Tree Village. The one-hour long documentary contains livefootage and short interviews with members of the underground, including Tongue. The purpose is to communicate a vibe, and not concrete information. Due to the poor quality and lack of subtitles or other indicators for who are performing and who are saying what, the movie is difficult to understand for outsiders.[49]

Contrary to what the English caption might suggest, the documentary does not argue that freedom has its limits as well. Instead, it shows that these musicians are prepared to live under poor conditions for freedom, which puts them in the margins of society. This is expressed in the Chinese title which literally means ‘(On) the Edge(s) of Freedom’ or ‘(In) the Margins of Freedom’, and also by the subtitle: ‘All in All We Still Live in this World, in the Margins of This City’. Sun Zhiqiang used to work in the same work unit as Wu Junde and came to Beijing to stay with Tongue. He also recorded and produced the VCD Painter which is the focus of this thesis and which I will discuss in the next chapter.

To conclude about Tree Village, I would like to mention two more things. The first is fighting. All the members of Tongue, especially in Dongbeiwang, now and then got into fights, most of the time with local thugs. Sun Mengjin says:

At the time [1999] they were fighting regularly, you could tell by their appearance. … They had a rather strong sense of justice 􀒫􀐝 , [they had] a sense of justice and were vigorous and upright 􃸔􂇨 [literally, ‘blood and pneuma’], as vigorous and upright as steel 􃸔􂇨􁮍􀟮. They would often see things they did not understand or despised, and would immediately take action. Maybe that is a good way [of life], it is not a way I object to.[50]

The members of Tongue could not give any precise reasons for the fights, but said that a general lack of respect on the side of the local thugs was at its basis. This no-nonsense attitude is related to their music, as I show in the next chapter.

The second is relationships. It is very difficult to build a relationship for the underground rock musicians, who were predominantly male, struggling out-of-towners living under lousy conditions. Maybe it is not surprising that Li Dan’s, Li Hongjun’s and Wu Junde’s girlfriends were all active in music, and could to some extent understand and support them. Caroline Grillot graduated from university in France and is Zhu Xiaolong’s girlfriend. She lived in Chengdu for a few years, where she got into contact with local rock music, on which she wrote an article.[51] Zuoxiao Zuzhou introduced her to the Beijing music scene. Miao Chenglin is an aspiring writer and a graduate from Lanzhou University, she is also Wu Tun’s girlfriend. Guo Dagang married his girlfriend who is born and raised in Beijing, several years ago. All members, including Wu Tun, moved from their single rooms to apartments or rural courtyards around the summer of 2002, with increasing privacy and clearly decreasing solidarity.[52]

Tongue and High Underground Rock 1999-2001

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Fig. 3.10. Logo of Badhead.

In 1998, before Yan Jun moved to Beijing in July 1999, there was a dinner on the occasion of his visit to the capital. On this occasion a lot of new contacts were established: Shen Lihui, Hao Fang, Zuzhou (NO), Hu Mage and many others were there. Some of the artists gave demo tapes to Shen Lihui, the owner of the record company Modern Sky, who started thinking about publishing a series of underground albums. In March 1999 Modern Sky started the sublabel Badhead and published four CDs of underground bands – the Fly, NO, Hu Mage and Chen Dili. With this event, underground rock moved into a new period.[53]

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Fig. 3.11. Cover of Chickling out of the Shell.

In July 1999 Tongue signed a record deal with Modern Sky/Badhead. Since they had been rehearsing the same songs almost daily since New Year 1997, and because they needed money, they were desperate to go into the studio. They recorded Chickling out of the Shell in five days – not in the usual way of recording each instrument successively, but all at the same time – and it was mixed in six days. Modern Sky only bought the property rights of the master tape, while the band was (financially) responsible for the recording. The company only got involved in the last phase of the recording process, in which it could judge the album suitable for reproduction or not and make suggestions for the final mixing and mastering. This is a common practice in the rock scene called maiduan 􀑄􁮁.

By the end of January 2000 Chickling out of the Shell was published, together with NO’s second CD Trip to the Temple Fair 􁑭􀓮􀐟􁮙, on which Zhu Xiaolong and Guo Dagang also participated. Most critics preferred the live performances of Tongue: because of the rush, lack of money and lack of studio experience, the recording was of poor quality. An additional reason was that Wu Tun’s voice was mixed to the background, as one of the few demands of the company, probably to avoid problems with censorship.[54] Yan Jun writes in “If Tomorrow Comes”:

The recording of this album [Chickling out of the Shell] was outside everyone’s expectations. It was too distinct and too clean, it could make the whole recording and mixing industry shy of its cheating. As a member of the audience, I rather like the demo. … However, history definitely has its own pace: it demands everything to develop naturally. Therefore a failed album is preserved according to the maturity of the totality of the underground rock scene of the moment. That is pitiful for Tongue, but to the totality it was simply destined.[55]

Tongue became one of the most important bands in the underground scene, a reputation that was due rather to their sharp lyrics, powerful compositions and tight and energetic stage performances than to this studio recording. As Yan Jun points out, the recording of Chickling out of the Shell was poor compared to foreign standards and Chinese pop records, but it was an honest representation of the recording standards of the underground rock at the time.

Tongue built their reputation on stage performances: between 1999 and 2001 they performed frequently all over China. In the remainder of this section I will highlight a festival and a bar that were important venues for live performances and the development of underground rock.

In 2000 Midi organized its own festival, which was more like a reunion in the auditory of the school. The two-day event was a success; the bands, which consisted of students and/or graduates, played for free; the school provided free beer and one to two thousand people, mostly insiders who knew of the festival by word of mouth, had a great time. Tongue played as the last act on both the first and second day. The school has annually organized the festival since, which is unique in China. The government allows it, even though it does not have an official permit, since it is free and has the status of a school reunion. The local police office and the highway police each demand a compensation for their extra efforts.

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Fig. 3.12. Announcement for Midi Modern Music Festival 2003. On the left is the list of bands, including Tongue. However, they did not perform.

In the fall of 2001 the Midi School moved to the vicinity of the Fragrant Hills where the festival was held outdoors in 2002 and 2003. It grew to a three-day free festival with more than forty bands, foreign acts and ten thousand visitors each day. Tongue played in 2001, but in the third edition (2002) they did not because when it was time for their show the police stopped the festival. In 2003 Wu Tun was sick. The Midi Festival changed again in 2004, but this is outside our present scope.[56]

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Fig. 3.13. The audience at Midi Modern Music Festival 2002, near The Fragrant Mountains.

The people that went to the Midi Festival in May 2000 also frequented a bar called The Garden of Joy 􁓔􁖗􀐤􀳁. The incrowd of this bar were called tietuo 􄪕􁠬, which can be translated as iron henchman or die-hard, and is a play on the Chinese name of Tito, the onetime dictator of former Yugoslavia and ally of China. In his slang-dictionary of the underground scene Yan Jun explains iron henchmen as ‘extremely loyal supporters’, and credits the out-of-towners of Tree Village for coining the term in 1999.[57]

In the beginning (1999) The Garden of Joy was a small place, owned by keyboard player Guo Dagang’s father-in-law. It was located near Wudaokou, close to two of China’s top universities, Tsinghua and Peking University, as well as to the Beijing Language and Cultural University were the majority of foreign students studied. The Garden of Joy used to be a disco, with karaoke rooms and company girls, but since business starting slacking the owners looked for other ways to attract customers. The first shows were rap metal parties: a growing number of young Tree Village bands were playing this kind of music but had no place to perform. Later The Garden of Joy moved a bit west, to a larger place. Nan Qing, the new manager of this larger place, had hardly had education. Without any professional equipment or management-background she succeeded in making The Garden of Joy a home for a large variety of rock bands and their fans. An on-line version of an article that once appeared in the Southern Weekend 􀤫􁮍􀨼􁳿 is one of the rare accounts of the place I could find:

[Nan Qing is a] woman of around fifty, skinny but dexterous to the bone. She likes to wear long tight dress and smokes non-stop. … Does sister Nan like the music of these bands? She says she doesn’t like it, she says she likes the rock crowd. They have the courage to get on stage. Sister Nan is absolutely no self-seeking businessman, the relations she has with the bands looks more like the way a family system functions. Everybody intimately calls her ‘Sister Nan’. Sister Nan organizes shows for them, and supervises 􃅵􂧚 them in a system without clear written rules.[58]

Zhang Fan says:

The Garden of Joy was worn-out, but for the rockers it was heaven. The Garden of Joy was very important because before that, there was no place in Beijing for these poor, young rock musicians. It felt extremely free.[59]

At this larger Garden of Joy underground rock became popularized and a subculture started emerging. I use the term subculture, because we are talking about a group of people that is different from mainstream culture, who regularly meet and develop a life-style including dress-codes, parlance, behavior and so on. The importance of Garden of Joy is in providing a venue for developing and articulating a youth culture that is not restricted to musical practice alone. Yan Jun recalls:

When Tongue played in the small Garden of Joy, the audience consisted of true iron henchmen, people without jobs that knew the band. At the time of the big Garden of Joy they had become famous, and the Garden of Joy was famous. There were more and more shows. Writers, the media, people of magazines, and even people like the [pop metal band] Thin Man 􂯺 􀒎 would come to watch shows.[60] …The old Garden of Joy focused on rap metal, the big Garden of Joy at once brought this underground culture to a lot of Beijingers, and on a large scale … People like Tongue, we later regularly went there to see shows … At this time seeing shows at The Garden of Joy became [part of] a kind of life style. Every weekend we would go there, meet everybody, and would even not go in, we would sit outside all the time. Outside there were always several tens of people chatting. This was social contact, a gathering, a circle 􀳜􁄤 at The Garden of Joy. It was a very important series of events for a subculture, I think at this place a broader concept of so called underground culture prospered. ...
The first two years Midi Festival and The Garden of Joy were … one and the same. In the beginning only the purest, purest iron henchmen would go to Midi Festival, others would not know of it. Later, when The Garden of Joy had regular performances all these people went to The Garden of Joy. In fact, underground culture in the first place is Midi School, then the Midi graduates settled down in Tree Village and Dongbeiwang, then other people settled there as well. First these people had a circle in their daily life. Then, Midi Festival, The Garden of Joy, the new Garden of Joy, then this circle got bigger and bigger, and became diffuse. It slowly disappeared. … At first the out-of-town musicians needed a collective, a circle, a kind of mutual acknowledgement 􄅸􀧠􁛳. In fact it is a feeling of being protected. It is also looking for power … At the time it felt like a family. You could go to other peoples’ places if you wanted to eat, really. For instance Wu Tun, all along he did not have a place of his own, living at his brother’s place or in the rehearsal space or whatever.[61]

By the end of 2001 there were progressively fewer shows at The Garden of Joy, and finally it closed as a rock venue. This was probably due to financial problems: making money off poor young people proved difficult. Unfortunately the budding subculture could not find another venue that was as suitable – that is: as cheap – for its development as The Garden of Joy.

Of course many other bars and some festivals are worth mentioning in relation to rock in China, but most fall outside the scope of this thesis.[62] Let me briefly mention the Scream Bar, which was located in the same area as The Garden of Joy. It existed a few year earlier (1997-1998) and was the hotbed of the Beijing punk movement around 􁮴􃘞􀝯􄯳, The Army of Boredom or, in their own English caption, The Boredom Contingent.[63] These two scenes, Beijing punk and out-of-town underground, hardly had any contact, at least until punk bands started playing in The Garden of Joy as well in 2000.[64]

Underground Rock’s Great Audience

In the previous section we moved from a focus on the identity of the community in time and place towards the relation between the underground rock community and the outside world.

Tongue relates to the outside world on several levels. On most of these levels the contact is mediated by the underground community. The first level is that of their daily lives, where they live, what they eat, who they talk to. This level is totally absorbed by the underground community at Tree Village and Dongbeiwang. The second is that of stage performance. At first the iron henchmen, many of whom lived in Tree Village and had bands themselves, constituted a large part of the audience, but later the audience widened, varied and became anonymous. The third level is that of the studio performance. The albums of Tongue are sold in the market, for which the record company takes responsibility and which lies outside the direct influence of the underground community. The fourth level is that of media performance or publicity. Again it is difficult to influence what people are writing in the media inasmuch as they are not insiders or ones-of-us. Therefore it is possible that the media give representations of Tongue that Tongue (and the community) strongly disagree with and which Tongue (and the community) see as harmful to the way their music and behavior are perceived. To avoid this there is a symbiosis between certain critics and underground rock. Examples are the documentaries of Sun Zhiqiang and the writings of Yan Jun, Sun Mengjin and others. These people are perceived as ones-of-us and therefore the underground community is cooperative with them and values their opinions and writings.

The tendency of Tongue is towards mediating their position with the outside world through the underground community, in other words: they prefer dealing with insiders. This results in a dual purpose: first the ‘missionary’ goal of convincing more people of the attractions of the underground community; and second the identification and exclusion of them, the enemy.

Midi School, iron henchmen, the above-mentioned critics, patrons, underground bands from all over China and abroad can be insiders, and the government, mainstream media and musicians, record labels and bar owners are generally viewed as outsiders.[65] Another boundary is musical style: DJs, and electronic, fashionable and hiphop groups generally aspire to different ideals and cater to different audiences; they are not seen nor do they see themselves as part of the underground rock community.

These boundaries are most clearly negotiated on the second level, that of stage performance. In stage performance the insiders (band, iron henchmen, insider critics and event organizers) and the outsiders (the anonymous audience or market, bar owners, more mainstream media and event organizers) meet. At a live show the insiders show their warm blood 􂛁􃸔, here meaning fervor or energy, while the outsider audience merely sees what is going on 􂳟􂛁􄯍 and the mainstream media hunt for the exotic or are sensationalist 􂣢􀼛.[66]

After Tongue’s performance on Midi Festival 2001 Wu Tun shouted ‘Rock needs a great audience’ 􁨛􂒮􄳔􃽕􀓳􀻻􂱘􃾖􀓫. The slogan gained currency through a picture taken by Zhou Yunzhe (Fig. 3.14), and as the title of an interview by Yan Jun of Wu Tun.[67]

The interview was conducted in August 1999 and focuses on the relation between Tongue and the audience from the outset. The interview soon changes into a conversation that is as revealing of Yan Jun as it is of Wu Tun:

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Fig. 3.14. Wu Tun at Midi Modern Music Festival 2002. His posture is remindful of workers on Chinese propaganda posters.
Yan: “Your album [Chickling out of the Shell] is about to be published, what is its content?”
Wu: “I do not know what we can offer the audience. Can we give them love? A feeling of insight 􁛳􁙳? Life? How could that be possible! For me personally, I used to feel a release of my mind and soul 􁖗􂙉, but now we bring out our album, it is gone. ”
Yan: “At which of your shows did the audience behave best?”
Wu: “I do not have any demands of the audience. Nevertheless, rock music still needs an audience that has the stomach for it, needs what I see as a great 􀓳􀻻 audience, an audience that is more rock ‘n’ roll than the musicians. What do you say, do you think the musicians or the listeners should be the most rock ‘n’ roll?”
Yan: “Of course the listeners and viewers. Rock music is something for everybody, but not everyone is a musician.”
Wu: “Half of the people we see at our shows are colleagues, another part comes to see what is going on.”
Yan: “Yes, you do not know where your audience is.”
Wu: “Do you think it is better to force them to listen or to let them come and listen by themselves?”
Yan: “You can not change others, turn them into a real audience. But they will not change out of themselves and start truly listening. So, it is still better to force them and give them some stimulation. Who makes them go to live shows anyway?”
Wu: “At shows nowadays, besides the insiders of the [rock] scene, people do not come to relieve 􃓧􃾷 their pressure or to let go of their emotions 􀦥􂊘, they come to see what is going on, acting as if they were spying”
Yan: “If it were up to you, what would you like the audience to be after the show is over? Go home quietly or in inner hysteria? Even though you should not have demands?”
Wu: “I want them to be insane, to be made insane inside by rock. The show is only the beginning of the release of the audience, they will discover their lives are too pitiful, rock cannot solve their problems by a single performance. … It should make the audience realize they are suffering.”[68]

The first element that speaks from this interview is an attempt at conditioning the audience. This is done by defining the role of the audience at live shows, which leads to a definition of rock in general. The slogan “rock needs a great audience” is both a compliment to the ‘true’ audience, doubtless iron henchmen and their warm blood, and a reprimand of the audience that is there out of curiosity, to see what is going on. But the should-side of the story also points to the bands, who should aim at making the audience aware of their own misery, forcibly if necessary – that is, as long as they are attending the show.[69]

The second point is the references to the Chinese situation. This is already clear in the word great 􀓳􀻻 which in Chinese is commonly used for great individuals or awe-inspiring historic events, as in 􀓳􀻻􂱘􂆯􀐏􁐁 ‘The Great Chairman Mao’. Wu Tun’s other famous slogan ‘long live rock life’ 􁨛􂒮􂫳􂌏􀏛􁉕, coined in late 1998 and also mentioned in the interview above, is similar in that it boosts a renewed pride in rock by recycling old symbols. This time by using the dynastic long live, which was the emperor’s prerogative and generall thereof political leaders.[70]

From Chinese culture and history, Tongue also inherited a stress on the socio-ethical dimensions of individual behavior. The assumption is that humans spontaneously influence each other’s lives. This assumption stresses the social, ethical and political dimensions of underground rock performance. In the next two sections I will explore the workings of this assumption for the communication between band and audience. Two things are worth noting here. First, underground rock is a community and seeks to negotiate its position vis-à-vis society and mainstream music through that community instead of individually. Second, what is communicated is less an ideology and more a vibe.

Resonating Vibes

The term zhuangtai 􂢊􁗕, which I have translated so far with vibe, is central in the communication model I apply to Tongue.

Zhuangtai means state. When it is used in relation to the phase, temperature or shape of lifeless objects it can be translated as status or state of being. It means form or shape in the sense of a sports team being in good shape or condition for a match. In expressions such as 􀡴􀜹􂢊􁗕 getting in the mood or being in shape it is also applied to emotional states, moods or vibe.

The term zhuangtai in this thesis denotes a combination of emotional, artistic and ideological states. When Sun Mengjin says that the zhuangtai in Tree Village was really good in 1999, this means on the emotional level that he felt at home and at ease there. On the ideological level his remark is related to solidarity, which he identifies as an important characteristic of the village: it means that Tree Village had a shared and down-to-earth attitude. With this remark Sun Mengjin furthermore suggests that a good zhuangtai is a prerequisite for good artistic creation, especially when he later contrasts 1999 with 2004 as I will show in 3.11. I choose the word vibe to combine these meanings, with the qualification that it is a characteristic of a known object (members of the audience, Tongue, the underground rock community) and not an atmosphere ‘out there’, unrelated to anything tangible.

In the introduction I quoted Wu Tun saying

After all, this kind of music is not about expressing emotions 􁡦􁚙, it wants to say something or express a vibe.[71]

In conversations Wu Tun repeatedly confirmed that to him rock is a vibe, while simultaneously expressing a dislike for the universal sound of this claim, and escaping to terms like qingxu 􁚙􃒾 ‘atmosphere’ or ‘mood’.

In the communication model I propose, individuals have a vibe which they express spontaneously in everything they do. Communication occurs when a group of people share or attune their vibes. Certain circumstances favor this interaction. The experience leaves such an impression on people that after it is over it is an incentive for reflection and critical thought.

The same model applies on several levels, including band, audience and community. In our case it applies to the interaction of members of Tongue, the interaction of Tongue and audience in the performance of PAINTER and the interaction of musicians in Tree Village and Dongbeiwang.

The circumstances that favor the communication of a vibe are the prerequisites for the emergence of a group identity, such as unity of space, history and social position. Communication and identity are in constant interaction in this model: group identity affords communication which in turn strengthens group identity. The individual (one) and the group (us) are linked through communication (-of-): one-of-us.

The dichotomy between us and them is enforced by this model. The model favors small groups in which the atmosphere of ‘emotional transaction’ can be optimized and controlled. The difference between I and us fades during the sharing of vibes. The individual loses herself in the group and the musician also loses himself in the collective vibe (I will elaborate on this in the next chapter). The rising importance of group experience could be the reason that, in my perception, the idea that rock is an activity of bands instead of something centered around individuals has taken deeper root in the underground rock community than ever before. Cui Jian is the example of a band centered on an individual, and Tongue is in that respect the opposite. This model also adds to the reasons for discrediting studio recordings: they do not imply a unity of any kind of band and audience and are therefore less capable of communication of this kind. In short, the communication model favors bands, the underground community, iron henchmen and small-scale stage performances.

Shuye has written a review of a Tongue show that at least partially fits the process described above:

Sometimes life is not happy, but it cannot lack faith 􀖵􁗉. When Tongue came to Wuhan for the first time [March 2002 in Vox Bar] they brought the music lovers of Wuhan not only musical communication, they rather told a principle that was long unheard off, [but] remained unspoiled 􂣀􀭘􀝊􄑿: that enthusiasm can be infectious. This comes from the music, I mean when Wu Tun was jumping in mid-air. Indeed, no one could control his body, because the music controlled our minds, is that wrong? Haha…. , but we did not forget that their sounds from the people 􂇥􄯈 are so lovely, to the point where musical violence and perfection do not need to be mediated by albums: live shows are the best way. The exertion of energy it triggers heads forward; such is the intrinsic mission of music.[72]

Another important consequence of this model is that what is communicated is not concrete information or direct incentives for action, but a much less paraphrasable vibe. This whole process complicates unambiguous conclusions about underground rock, such as on its subversive potential. All I can do here is show some of the topics and symbols Tongue touches upon in their performance, providing opportunities for engagement rather than closing them off. In the next chapter I will discuss some opportunities for engagement. I can also show the social context in which these performances can be understood, which I do here.

Underground Ethics

This communication model is also related to another remark Wu Tun made: ‘being a musician 做音乐 is being a human 做人’.[73] This aphorism is difficult to translate because it contains a word play on the character zuo 做, ‘do’, ‘make’ or ‘act as’. In isolation 做音乐 (‘doing music’) could be translated best with ‘playing music’ and 做人 (‘doing human’) with ‘behaving as an (upright) person’ or ‘human conduct’.

The gist of the remark is that music is treated as form of ethics, and furthermore that living and making music is a continuum: that art is life. I already hinted at this view through the term one-of-us, and more explicitly in the communication model above. The view of an individual that spontaneously expresses his vibe in everything he does is reminiscent of the image in Chinese tradition of the sage that spontaneously radiates wisdom, culture and benevolence.

In a politicized Chinese environment, creating a community around an alternative worldview implies a critique of the dominant political order. This view has countless antecedents in Chinese history, from the persecution of hermits in the late Han to the collusion of personal and national fate in the thought of Liang Shuming in the 1920s and 1930s. It is sometimes also ascribed to Cui Jian, to whom ‘the personal and historical are always stuck together’.[74]

I do not argue that the rock musicians are hermits, saviors or preachers. On the contrary, this assumption endows every member of the audience, every one-of-us, with ethical power and responsibility.

This argument seems to counter my argument throughout this thesis and enforce the political reading of PAINTER, because it stresses the ethical (and political) dimensions of the underground rock community and their music. However, I never argued that politics is irrelevant for this music. My central point that the listener needs to find her own way of dealing with the presented situation still holds, and in fact is strengthened. The conclusion is not simply that the whole community and their music is subversive, but that their music appeals to the ethical, and in the second place political, judgment of its audience, even though the audience does not always understand or welcome these complicating and often confusing demands.

I could supply examples from lyrics of songs like IT IS YOUR CALL and KEPT IN THE DARK here, but that falls outside the present scope. The lyrics of these songs are in appendix II. In the next chapter I will relate this story to the music and lyrics of Tongue.

Tongue and Late Underground Rock 2001-2004

The biography of Tongue is full of great albums, stage performances and other events, nevertheless, difficulties in dealing with ‘outsiders’ is also a returning theme. Tongue had built up cultural credit in the underground rock community and in the Chinese rock scene as a whole; the story of the late period of underground rock is dominated by the inability to translate this cultural capital into financial capital.

This is most evident in the relationship with record companies. Soon after the first album was published in late January 2001, Tongue was dissatisfied with Badhead. Tongue had signed two contracts with Badhead, one of which allowed Tongue to record two albums and one about live performances. According to this latter contract, Badhead should organize shows for Tongue and Tongue should give a percentage, usually 30 percent, of the profit to Badhead. This second contract was ignored since Badhead did not organize shows for Tongue.

The general problem was that Shen Lihui, Modern Sky’s general manager, saw Badhead as a label for financially marginal bands and focused his energy and money on the more mainstream acts signed on the main label.[75] The underground community felt they were treated unfairly, and that the record company abused the difficult position of underground bands by offering too little money and did nothing in return. In a word, Shen Lihui was labeled an outsider.

As early as 1999 Tongue had met Gary Chen, the general manager of Pulay Records. Gary Chen had become a fan of Cui Jian during his university years at Peking University and became the chairman of Cui Jian’s fan club in the early 1990s. Chen did business in America, organized Cui Jian’s first shows in America and came back in 1998 to start a record company. In July 2001 he signed Tongue for sixty thousand RMB. Chen bought the rights for recording Tongue’s second album from Badhead and in December 2001 Tongue went into the studio to record This is You 􄖭􁈅􁰃􀔴.[76]

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Fig 3.15. Cover of This is You.

But before that Tongue published the live album Painter with Sub Jam. On November 16th 2000 Tongue played in CD-café in Beijing, a relatively classy bar close to Sanlitun with connections with Cui Jian and the jazz-world. Matthew Corbin Clark, Pulay Records’ producer, was behind the mix table and, without Tongue knowing it, made a recording.[77] Tongue was surprised about the good quality of the recording, but also thought that Gary Chen would only be interested in promoting a more perfected product. When Yan Jun found out about the recording, he and Tongue agreed to publish it on Yan’s own label, Sub Jam (the Chinese name is Iron Henchmen). Fang Wuxing, one of initiative takers of the Taiwan-based independent label Direct Pop 􂳈􁥹􂌕􃸠􀝀􀧌[78] agreed to help and took the tape to Taiwan for remixing and mastering. The fact that Sub Jam is inside the underground community is evidenced by the fact that there was no written contract, as well as that instead of one payment for the master tape, Tongue got a percentage, namely 500 RMB each for the first pressing of 1000 CDs. The VCD Painter was recorded a month later, on December 10th.

Tongue and Yan Jun saw these CDs as something for internal distribution 􀝙􄚼􀦥􃸠. Internal distribution is a government term for the distribution of classified or restricted information through the government apparatus. The underground borrowed it partly as a mock colloquialism and partly as a protection mechanism from censorship: the argument that a certain publication was only for distribution among insiders could sometimes convince officials of abandoning or at least postponing active censorship.[79] In short, Tongue and Yan Jun regarded Painter as a publication for insiders, as something that was irrelevant for the record companies that promoted Tongue’s position in the outside market.

After the CD got out in August 2001 (the VCD came out two months later) Shen Lihui and Gary Chen found out. The property rights on all the recordings of Tongue were in the hands of Badhead, and Shen Lihui got very angry with Yan Jun, whom he threatened to sue, although he knew that it would be materially useless. This incident was a step in the chain which let to a grudge between the two men. Yan Jun writes ‘I cannot say he is a good person’ and Shen Lihui blames the delusions of grandeur of underground bands on ‘certain rock critics’ saying: “I do not think they helped underground rock in any way.”[80]

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Fig. 3.16. Announcement of a show of Tongue and Sick Pupa, organized by Pulay.

In the end, Sub Jam promised to stop selling the recordings, but continued to do so until they ran out of copies of the second pressing somewhere in middle of 2004. Meanwhile the relation between Pulay Records and Tongue was also deteriorating. Gary Chen had taken Tongue’s studio recording to England for remixing and mastering, and when he came back Tongue was very disappointed with the result. It sounded very professional but also very clean, and the general sound of the band had changed from what Tongue had in mind. Gary Chen also did not use the lay-out Tongue proposed for the album cover, and instead used a modern drawing of a Beijing Opera figure which fitted better in the series of albums he wanted to promote – besides Tongue also Sick Pupa 􂮙 􃳍 and Wang Lei with his band Pump 􂋉.[81]

Tongue guitarist Zhu Xiaolong comments:

Record Companies, all of them, in the beginning they are very good, all for rock music. Later on they slowly change. … They show less and less concern for the bands while in the beginning they highly value them, at last they probably have no other way, no way to organize shows, because China really does not let you… So it becomes harder and harder, they make no money and finally they can only do some commercial things, and that is the end of them.

The position of the rock music industry is difficult because of their negotiation between the often incommensurable worldviews and interests of the government, the market and musicians.

Tongue developed a similar attitude towards bar owners. When I asked Wu Junde what they earn for a show, he said:

At least, after traveling expenses, everybody would at least earn between ten or twenty RMB, twenty RMB or so.[82]But now we have a new consideration. There are a lot of brand companies, if they organize shows they hardly give any money. They invite rock bands because rock bands want to come, and rock musicians have a very good vibe. In this way they exploit the goodness and honesty of rock. If a rock band says ‘let us just play there’, and participates in these shows, this is completely unconnected with their actual [necessities of] life. And I do not think it is good for the development of rock as a whole either. Tongue, we demand that the bar owner supports rock with their hearts, and do not exploit it. … This has no relationship with whether we think the money they offer is enough or not. The money should be a motivational power to let him understand rock is an extremely good spiritual vibe, spiritual culture.

And when I asked why Tongue did not have a lot of shows recently Sun Mengjin said:

No, because Wu Tun refuses to sell himself out 􀟎􀤪􃞾􁏅.[83]

Wu Tun’s stage appearance on the “Safe Night of Original Music 2000” 􀥳􀟯􄷇􀐤􁑇􁅝􀻰 may be an indication of his attitude towards the show business and the mainstream. Liu Jun writes in a review of the evening:

When Tongue exited stage, the funniest thing of the show happened. The pleasing hostess mistakenly took Wu Tun to be a celebrity and actually invited Wu Tun to say a few words to The People of Yinchuan, just like a celebrity. The result was: Wu Tun left stage without consulting anyone. Poor hostess![84]

This behavior shows a deviance of the behavior that is accepted and expected from celebrities in mainstream Chinese culture. The malicious enjoyment with which Liu Jun writes his account shows that he approves of Wu Tun’s behavior. In underground rock scenes this behavior is less controversial than in the Chinese mainstream, and this occasion can be seen as a consequence of Tongue’s choice to be part of the underground community and disregard mainstream culture.

Beijing Rocks and The Declaration of Tree Village

The events around the recording of the Hong Kongese movie Beijing Rocks, in Chinese known as 􀣫􀒀􀐤􀏢􄏃 Music and Road in Beijing and 􀣫􀒀􀐤􀏢􁗦 Happiness and Anger in Beijing,[85] are an early sign of the problems between the underground community and mainstream media.

Beijing Rocks (2001) is a movie by the Hong-Kongese director Mabel Cheung (Zhang Wanting). Cheung took considerable efforts to make Beijing Rocks realistic and the making-of that is part of the DVD-version shows that she is sympathetic towards the underground rock scene saying “I wanted to portray the energetic life of these young people.” As early as 1999 she came to the capital. In January 2000 she witnessed a Tongue-show, had contact with them afterwards and considered including live footage of a performance in the old Garden of Joy in the movie. Cheung also saw Borders of Freedom and wanted Sun Zhiqiang to be part of her production team. She hired Yan Jun as well, who commented on the script and introduced Cheung to many musicians. Somewhere in May or July Cheung started casting rock musicians for secondary roles in the movie, and chose, among others, Li Dan for a role as the drummer of the band of the main character.

Her sympathy with the rock scene was at first returned by the underground community, also because the money and prestige coming from a movie appearance were welcome, not least as signs of progress towards parents and relatives in the home-towns of these out-oftown musicians. However, as late as October 12th 2000, several days before the shooting began, Yan Jun, Wu Tun and Sun Zhiqiang sounded the alarm. They had finally got a developed version of the script and realized the movie was not going to be an honest documentary on the underground community but a commercial love-story to which the underground scene served the role of a sensational background.

As tempting as it may be to analyze this movie and the conflict between seeing it as a documentary – focalizing a warm but patronizing pity for the hardships and the impossible dreams of these people – and as a fabricated love-story, it falls outside the scope of this thesis to do so. The conflict is most clear in the black-and-white scenes in the movie in which the main characters (famous movie stars) introduce themselves (their roles), speaking directly into the camera.

Yan Jun wrote a statement, which was discussed with members of a number of bands and finally Yan read an amended version of this statement on the 15th of October in the Garden of Joy at a show of Tongue and other bands. The statement, called “Tree Village Declaration” 􁷥 􁴥 􀻄 􁯢 was subsequently signed by almost all the active bands and musicians of the rock scene, who thereby denounced further cooperation with Beijing Rocks.[86]

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Fig. 3.17. Shu Qi playing one of the lead roles in Beijing Rocks.

The manifesto calls Beijing Rocks sensationalist and asks for respect for the life the musicians had chosen of their free will:

This movie is only an interlude in our lives no one wants to exaggerate. What we need to do now, is to take this chance and make clear what the basic attitude of rock bands is.
As for underground bands and underground rock, what we want to say is that no-one forced us to aspire to this way of life, and no-one ever lured us into these material circumstances. Soberly we wish to know everything about today and the future and take full responsibility for our conduct. Underground rock is not only about cloths, make-up and musical forms, nor is it only about being poor and angry. It is – through reflection and decisiveness – music with an own opinion about music and the attitudes that lie behind it. Its currents and innovations stem from instinctive needs. We wish to improve our living conditions, and are looking forward to seeing our music broadcasted, sold and commercially handled. But the greatest joy of being human 􀘮􀒎 and being a musician 􀘮􄷇􀐤 is striving to get as much freedom as you can, especially freedom of thought and spirit. What we are discussing now is not only Beijing Rocks, but a fundamental question: The majority of us have left their hometowns to live in the suburbs of Beijing, drinks plain tea, eats simple food, dresses strangely and will probably be playing in disordered little bars for the rest of their lives. What do we do it for? While we never had independent spirits, true emotions, free creation or social justice in any abstract sense, yet when we talk about these topics we are not acting on blind impulses: we know our position is under enormous, everpresent control and seduction. Imitating underground rock is easy, being human is just like being a musician, that is the hardest thing.[87]

Critiquing the Underground

Many rock critics criticized the underground for becoming less active after 2001 and/or for having missed opportunities offered by mainstream media. Sun Mengjin’s “Chinese Rock’s Rotten Shop” 􀐁􀳑􁨛􂒮􂚖􁨞􁄤 stands out. It was published in the widely read rock magazine Rock 􄗮􀖫􂄠􁳆 in December 2003 and was written in reaction to the jeering and throwing of bottles at the Japanese band Brahman at the 2003 Midi Festival. This incident showed rock from its darker side, much to the aversion of Zhang Fan, as well as Yan Jun, Tongue, me and many other musicians and critics.[88]

Sun Mengjin seized the occasion for a devastating critique of underground rock, which starts out by blaming the rock industry for offering impossible and in fact illegal deals, moves on to doubting the effort of the musicians and then accuses the underground rock community. The main thrust is that the underground community did not deal well with the mainstream. In the first place it keeps bands with mainstream aspirations and abilities from developing in that direction, even though pop rock bands are desperately needed to bridge the huge gap between underground and pop. Secondly the underground community proved unable to deal with the media. In a conversation Sun Mengjin said Beijing Rock was a missed chance for the underground to get a wider audience, and in “Chinese Rock’s Rotten Shop” he gives an example of a Taiwanese producer that was made fun of and scared away by rockers.[89] Finally the underground community has its inner problems of ossification of ideals, misogyny, sexism, intolerance of deviances in musical style and prejudice against commerce and the outside world in general:

In fact, the problems of this scene are the problems of every scene, the problems of rock are also the present problems of the nation 􀳑􂇥. Everybody is innocent, but at the same time, nobody is innocent.[90]

Sun Mengjin’s argument is that this generation of rockers should grow up out of the necessary phase of underground, in which they were unaccepted and unprofessional, and become, at least partly, professional and public. The bounds and boundaries of the community prohibit this from happening.[91]

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Fig. 3.18. Cover of Hao Fang’s translation of Get in the Van.

Yan Jun also argues that Chinese rock is going through a crisis or transformation, but locates the solution not in a better cooperation with mainstream media but in a renewed persistence in the practices of the underground ideal. Yan refers to Hao Fang’s translation of Henry Rollins’ touring diary Get in the Van: On the road with Black Flag as 􀏞􄔺􄍄􀒎􀋖􀏢􅒥􁮫􁨛􂒮􀳼􄏃􀏞 (1994, translation 2002) which to Yan was a good example of what being a rock musician is about: not the glamour and media attention of rock stardom, but the grim reality of touring in a decrepit old van, and loving it.[92] The reason for the crisis in Chinese rock, according to Yan, is the continuing mythification of the rock spirit. The underground should stop whinging, but live with its situation and focus on musical performance. As quoted above, according to Yan Jun, the ideals of the underground community “have not got a hell of a lot to do with music.”[93]

This last remark was also made by Yang Bo in an article called “If it is not music, than what is it?”. In it Yang ridicules Punk God – one of the four heavenly kings of underground rock – for ignoring musical qualities in their all-absorbing obsession with political subversion against the CCP.[94]

Whose Tongue?

Fig. 3.19. Let’s New Music!, announcement of a Christmas party at the Garden of Joy with Tongue and five other bands.

The concept of the underground rock community and the related politics of inclusion and exclusion worked both empowering and restrictive. Underground rock started as a movement all over China and was as such both broader than and directed against the previous rock generation, which was located in the capital and dominated by a small group of Beijing musicians. However, over time out-of-town musicians settled in dilapidated villages in the outskirts of Beijing and developed a community with its own identity and intolerances towards outsiders.

Tongue was in the middle of this and had a large influence on the course of the four-step process of creation of the underground rock community. After the second and third steps were get in motion, the musicians that were struggling for mainstream recognition in step one could no longer do so without running the risk of being accused by other members of having sold out. The four-step process works only one way: taking pride in being different, independent and a member of the underground cannot be reversed. The identity of underground rock that is the result of a large number of rockers being ignored by a society, ultimately keeps them from taking part in that society. This is reflected most painfully in the dire financial situation of most, if not all, underground rock musicians.

In Tongue’s difficult relation with the audience, the market and the media, an interplay between inner group (us) and outer group (us and them) politics is clear. The communication model, based on mutual sharing of a vibe in a small group, contributes to the dichotomy of us and them. Tongue also encourages the audience to consider ethical, and secondary political issues, or rather: to develop independent and critical thought. These vibes, ethics and group politics are far too complicated to be reduced in terms of an opposition of the underground rock community and the state or society. The performance of Tongue belongs the Beijing underground rock scene and to everybody that engages with their musical performance.

Referencing and Footnotes

In addition to the footnotes and references of the original works, further references and footmarks have been used to give the interested reader more details and specifica of respective events, persons, etc.

Additions to the original works

Some images, pictures and other graphical works have been added to the transcribed version by the team of RiC to further utilize the original works and efforts by Mr. Jeroen Groenewegen. Examples for the additions are linked articles to complete song lyrics or the portraits of mentioned key persons and bands.


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  1. Yan 1998.
  2. Yan 2002a, a shorter version appeared in Yan 2002:177-183 and Wu 2001:16-20. For a translation see appendix IV.
  3. Van Crevel 1996:22.
  4. Barmé 1999:xiv-xv.
  5. Mittler 1997:52,53 ‘Even the composer who is willing to cater for the prescribed audience can never be sure that he will be able to sell his product. Planned economies sometimes suffer from miscalculations, too.’
  6. Baranovitch 2003:14-15, Jones 2001.
  7. Baranovitch 2003:6-7.
  8. Chen Yi, manager of Scream Records, said Nirvana was the most important foreign band for Chinese rock (Chen Yi, conversation October 2003). See also Huot 2000:154, the title of the chapter is “Rock Music from Mao to Nirvana”, and Yan 2002:363.
  9. Hao 1997, Yan 1999.
  10. Yan 2002:22.
  11. Chickling out of the shell, Tongue 2000. It was recorded July 1999.
  12. ‘we’ means, besides Yan Jun himself also Zhang Xiaozhou, Sun Mengjin, as well as Peng Hongwu and Qiu Dali. At the time Yang Bo was also very famous, but he hardly wrote about this (Yan Jun, personal communication, 22 September 2004).
  13. Yan Jun, conversation, 9 May 2004.
  14. Yan 2002:18. See also Fig. 2.3.
  15. For more information on Zuoxiao Zuzhou and No, see He 1997:83-91, Huot 165-168, De Kloet 2001:56-66, Yan 2002:188, Yan 2004:227-264 and (consulted 01-02-05). In 1970 Zuoxiao Zuzhou was born as Wu Hongjin in Nanjing. His chosen name, Zuoxiao Zuzhou, literally means ‘left-little-curse of the ancestors’, with a pun on Zuzhou: he replaced the first character of the word 􄆙􀩦 ‘curse’ with the homonym 􂼪 ‘ancestors’. It is not clear to me whether he curses the ancestors or is cursed by the ancestors, perhaps both. ‘Left’ signifies his political interests and ‘little’ perhaps the playfulness in his attitude towards life and music. He Li elaborates on the topic of patricide, which he links to the individualization, vulgarization and hostility towards the mainstream that he signals in the music and behavior of a whole generation of bands, and NO and The Fly especially (He 1997:84).
  16. It is possible that Hao Fang’s subtitle, taken from a quotation of Gilles Deleuze which mentions a bird flying towards where the sun is sure to rise, is a positive answer to He Li’s negative title Rock ‘Orphans’ (He 1997) which is taken from the poem ORPHAN 􁄸􀜓 by Bei Dao in which ‘the orphans have already flown to heaven’, but this is merely speculation.
  17. Yan 1998:1.
  18. Yan 2002a. For more information on No and The Fly, see He 1997:83-91, Huot 165-168, De Kloet 2001:56-66, Yan 2002:188 and (consulted 01-02-05).
  19. Members of Tongue have participated in many other bands over the years. Most notably are Cui Jian and NO (later Zuoxiao Zuzhou). Later Li Dan played in the short-lived but famous Wood Pushing Melon 􁳼􁥼􂪰 and Zhu Xiaolong and Wu Junde in IZ, which plays traditional Xinjiang music (see also 4.8).
  20. Yan 2002a.
  21. Basements were often used as practicing spaces.
  22. Yan 2002a.
  23. Yan 2002a, Huoying is a rural village on the outskirts of Beijing where a lot of rock musicians live and rehearse.
  24. Yan 2002a.
  25. De Kloet 2004:10.
  26. De Kloet 2001:18.
  27. Yan 2002:15.
  28. De Kloet 2001:17-22, Yan 2002:14-15, Sun 2002b.
  29. The title is also a (weak) reference to the Beat Generation, which is 􀶂􁥝􂱘􀏔􀒷.
  30. Yan Jun 2004:176.
  31. The information on Midi Modern School is based on a series of conversations with Zhang Fan and especially one on 9 July 2004. See also (consulted 21-12-2004), for an interview with Zhang Fan that goes deeper into the development of the Midi School, see Zhang 2001.
  32. 􄪕􃸔􁬓􃄪 ‘blood and iron tactics’, denotes a resort to military power by a government, similar to ‘gunboat diplomacy’. 􂲫􂈫 is also the name of the disease night sweat. Through the playful comparison with pirates and robbers, the title conceptualizes a conflict in the view of rockers: on the one hand they are powerful and empowering, on the other they are weakening and marginal.
  33. The title of this section is taken from a song by the folk rock artist Hu Mage. 􂱘 should be pronounced as di.
  34. Yan 2002:15.
  35. Yan 2002:17.
  36. Information is based on numerous conversations with Zhu Xiaolong, Li Dan, Wu Tun and Wu Junde in the period March-August 2004, unless otherwise indicated.
  37. Wu 2001:22-24.
  38. Cui Jian is a complex figure. His is well-known in the mainstream media and some of his songs are definitely widely known by hearth. Cui Jian is a rock star and acknowledged as such by the media. However, Yan Jun argues that Cui Jian is poorly understood by the mainstream media and the majority of his fans (Yan 2002:109), which is in fact an acknowledgement of and a claim on Cui Jian by the underground. Since Cui appears in the mainstream media, as misrepresented as it may be, I see Cui as a mainstream rock artist, while keeping an eye open for his less media-covered activities.
  39. For information on Liu Yuwu, Tongues first lead singer, see Yan 1998:10 and Yan 2002: 211-212.
  40. Yan Jun, conversation, 9 April 2004. See also Yan 2002a.
  41. See also Yan 2002:172, the school Yan mentions is the Midi school.
  42. A 1999:12, Yan 2002:33-34.
  43. In Cui 2001:205 Cui Jian names Tongue as one of the three best bands of China.
  44. For a description on the location of these areas, see Wu 2001:3-4.
  45. See also Huot 2000:168, and Sun 2004 for an interview of Sun Mengjin by Yang Bo on publication of Sun Mengjin’s poetry.
  46. Sun Mengjin, conversation, 6 May 2004.
  47. Yan 2002: 172-176.
  48. Wu 2001: 3-8.
  49. The script of Borders of Freedom Sun Zhiqiang published is useful for identifying speakers and performers (Sun Zhiqiang 2001a).
  50. Sun Mengjin, conversation, 6 May 2004.
  51. Grillot 2001.
  52. Roughly speaking, Tongue lived and rehearsed at Shangdi in 1997, at Tree Village in 1998 and 1999, at Dongbeiwang between late 1999 and 2002, and in Huoying after 2002.
  53. Yan 2002:376-377, Yan 2002:142-150,Yan 2004:25, Yan Jun, conversation, 9 March 2004.
  54. Yan 2002a.
  55. Yan 2002a. The anonymous author of an online review of Chickling out of the Shell mentions bad mixing and censorship as reasons for the fact that Tongue is not as overwhelming and infectious on CD as they are live (Anonymous 2001).
  56. Yan 2002:292-312 is a review of Midi Festival 2002.
  57. Yan 2002:396.
  58. Anonymous 2001a.
  59. Zhang Fan, conversation, 9 July 2004.
  60. in Yan 2002:35 a similar enumeration includes: ‘every large show several hundreds of people attended, students, iron henchmen, musicians, writers, businessmen, vagabonds and trouble-makers 􂏋􁄤’.
  61. Yan Jun, conversation 9 March 2004. On The Garden of Joy, see also Yan 2002:32 and 35-36.
  62. Another interesting series of festivals is Heineken Beat, which was held in 1999, 2000 and 2001. For more information on bars, such as The Get Lucky Bar 􄈾􄖤􄜦􀧻 and CD-café CD 􀩪􀬵, see Yan 2002:29-38. More recently (2003-2004) the Nameless Highland 􁮴􀧡􅂬􀴄 has become the nut of rock nightlife in the capital.
  63. The frequent references to the military in rock is an interesting topic. The rock bar Nameless Highground, mentioned below, is for instance dressed up in military style, with many references to China’s Revolutionary period and the People’s Liberation Army.
  64. Exceptions on the ban on contact between Beijing bands and out-of-town bands are the Beijing bands Twisted Machine, which played a similar music style as many out-of-town bands, and Hang-on-the-Box 􁣖􀳼􂲦􁄤􀏞, an all-female punk band of which several members studied at Midi and which rehearsed there as well.
  65. Note the difference in perception of Midi School and for instance Modern Sky. Zhang Fan’s aspiration towards professionalism and his willingness to cooperate with the government – both of which are visible in his plans to change the Midi Festival into a legal, safe and professional event – are accepted by the underground, be it as eccentric views. Whereas bands are glad to play for free at Midi Festival, most bands also discredit Modern Sky/Badhead because Shen Lihui’s rational market strategies only allow him to invest little, but still some, time and money in underground rock.
  66. Yan Jun calls his article on Beijing nu-metal/rap metal “Where did your warm blood go?” 􀔴􂱘􂛁􃸔􀪾􀦏􀑚? (Yan 2002:226). This musical style is closely related to Tree Village, the underground community and The Garden of Joy.
  67. The picture was published on the internet, in Yan Jun’s book (Yan 2004:172) as well as in Not Only Music 2 on page 1-2 next to a quotation of Yevgeny Zamyatin from Tomorrow (1919): ‘We appeal, not to those who reject today in the name of a return to yesterday, not to those who are hopelessly deafened by today; we appeal to those who judge today in the name of tomorrow, in the name of man – to those who see the distant tomorrow.’
  68. (consulted 01-02-05), Yan 2002:307-310.
  69. Wu Tun makes a similar point in an other interview (Anonymous 2000).
  70. The origin of this term is explained in Liu 2001:10 and Yan 2002:173.
  71. Wu 2001:30-31.
  72. Shuye 2002:18.
  73. See also Wu 2001:42-43, Yan 2002:258-261, quoted in section 3.9 and translated as appendix III.
  74. He 1997:68.
  75. Shen Lihui, conversation, 16 July 2004.
  76. (consulted 18-09-04). Pulay is also known as Engine Records 􁓩􁪢􀬅􂠛.
  77. Matthew Corbin Clark is also a friend of Cui Jian. Translations of Cui’s lyrics by Clark can be found on Later Clark recorded a compilation of Beijing rock bands which included a recording of Tongue’s PAINTER but which was never published by Pulay. Instead he sells copies on-line or gives them to friends. See also his website: (consulted 01-02-05).
  78. (consulted 01-02-05) and (consulted 01-02-05).
  79. Similar tactics to sooth official watchdogs were used in poetry circles, for instance in the case of the famous journal Today (Van Crevel 1996:66).
  80. Yan 2004:26 and Shen Lihui, conversation, 16 July 2004.
  81. See Yan 2004:124 for a review of the CD-presentation of This is You, in it Yan Jun ridicules the mainstream media, which a tinge of nostalgia for the iron henchmen.
  82. Later they earned 500, 800 or even 1000 RMB per person for a show outside Beijing.
  83. Sun Mengjin, conversation, 6 May 2004.
  84. Liu 2001:10.
  85. Cheung 2001.
  86. Li Dan, who already signed a contract, under alleged pressure from the other band members decided not to join and called Chueng who agreed not to press charges.
  87. Wu 2001:42-43, Yan 2002:258-261, see appendix III for a translation.
  88. For a review of Midi Festival 2003, see Yan 2003:8-14.
  89. Sun Mengjin, conversation, 6 May 2004.
  90. Sun 2003:63.
  91. Zhang Xiaozhou reaches a similar conclusion in “The inhibited new sounds of rock” 􃹿􀥟􁡥􂱘􁨛􂒮􁮄􀻄 (Zhang 2003). The article is a reaction to Sun Mengjin’s article and ends with short lists of China’s best acts by seven critics and musicians in which Tongue figures prominently. See also “Tree Village, Huoying Revisited” 􄞡􄆓􁷥􁴥􀇃􄳡􃧹 (Sun 2002b).
  92. Hao 2002.
  93. Yan Jun, conversation, 2004-04-09 and Yan 2004:195-198.
  94. Yang 2002. Nanchang-based grunge/punk band Punk God is the most extreme politically subversive band in China, the band – dominated by lead singer and guitar player Ao Bo – is famous for scolding the party and Mao Zedong. YOU DO NOT LET ME ROCK 􀔴􀏡􄅽􁟥􁨛􂒮 was covered by Tongue, but later they turned away from Punk God’s radicalism. Punk God promoted Taiwanese independence on a rock festival in Taiwan (spring 2004) and has not returned to the mainland since.