HIP HOP IN CHINA
Hip hop is known as xi ha in Chinese---as close as the Chinese language can get to pronouncing “hip hop.” The music form is becoming increasingly popular among urban youth and rural youth who have access to it and it draws fairly large crowds to festivals and venues like the Mako, a club in Beijing , where it is performed.
Hip hop in China has been tamed, cleaned and manipulated by government authorities, who give air play to artists that glorify China and celebrate popular tourist attractions rather than mock the police, glamorize gangsta violence and down and dirty sex. Government-authorized hip hop groups release albums that bear stickers that tell fans to share the music with their parents. They also do public service announcements on radio, exhorting people to have pride in the country, respect elders and do their bit to clean up the environment.
Shuo chang , Chinese word for “rap,” translates to ‘speak sing’ and is a loaded term. Jimmy Wang wrote in the New York Times, “It also describes a contentious subject for musicians, producers and fans in China.Hong Kong, mainland and Taiwanese pop stars who have their own spin on hip-hop dominate the mainstream here. Many tack high-speed raps onto the end of their songs, even ballads, and consider themselves rappers. [Source: Jimmy Wang, New York Times, January 23, 2009]
The blogger Brendan O’Kane wrote of the term shuo chang: and my impression (possibly wrong) is that people here who are into hip-hop would look upon the use of shuochang as a sign that someone was not part of the scene.”
History of Hip-Hop in China
Homegrown hip hop is still somewhat of a new phenomena in China. While American rappers like Eminem and Q-Tip have been popular in China since the 1990s, home-grown rap didn’t start gaining momentum until a decade later. In 2003 Mao’s birthday was celebrated with a CD of Mao slogans shouted out to rap music beats. Among the highlights was a spirited version of the “Two Musts”—“to preserve modesty and prudence” and “to preserve the style of plain living and hard struggle.”
Early rappers had difficulty adapting their tonal language to rap’s rhythms. Some of the biggest promoters of the sound were American English teachers. “The big change was when rappers started writing verse in Chinese, so people could understand,” Zhong Cheng, 27, a member of the group Yin Ts’ang told the New York Times, “Before that, kids listened to hip-hop in English but maybe less than 1 percent could actually begin to understand.” Zhong wa sraised in Canada but born in Beijing, where he returned in 1997.[Source: Jimmy Wang, New York Times, January 23, 2009]
Since the mid 2000s, Chinese hip-hop scene has quickly grown. Hiphop.cn, a Web site listing events and links to songs, started with just a few hundred members in 2007; in 2008 it received millions of views, according to one of the site’s directors. [Ibid]
Dozens of hip-hop clubs have opened up in cities across the country, and thousands of raps and music videos by Chinese M.C.’s are spreading over the Internet. [Ibid]
Hip-Hop and Self Expression in China
Chinese hip hop Many hip hop artist are drawn to music as a means of self-expression, A 24-year-old rapper who calls himself Shung Zi told the China Daily, “Hip-hop is free and I talk about my life, what I think about and what I feel...It seems that I have found a way to express myself and my own character, which I didn’t learn from school. Among the raps he performs with his group Yi He Tuan ( a reference to the Boxer Movement from 1900) are Telling the Story of Ordinary People , about his experiences growing up in Beijing hutongs, and Niu Zi , a girl he secretly loved.
Shung Zi said, “It’s a fast-moving time and hip-hop music is well-received by listeners. We put Beijing dialect in hip-hop just to make the language and unique local Beijing story heard by more people.”
“Hip-hop is free, like rock “n’ roll---we can talk about our lives, what we’re thinking about, what we feel,” Wang Liang, 25, a popular hip-hop D.J. in China who is known as Wordy, told the New York Times. “The Chinese education system doesn’t encourage you to express your own character. They feed you stale rules developed from books passed down over thousands of years. There’s not much opportunity for personal expression or thought; difference is discouraged.” [Source: Jimmy Wang, New York Times, January 23, 2009]
Chinese Hip Hop, Social Commentary and Foul Language
Some Chinese rappers address what they see as the country’s most glaring injustices. As Wong Li, a 24-year-old from Dongbei, says in one of his freestyle raps: “If you don’t have a nice car or cash/ You won’t get no honeys/ Don’t you know China is only a heaven for rich old men/ You know this world is full of corruption/ Babies die from drinking milk.” [Source: Jimmy Wang, New York Times, January 23, 2009]
Wong often performs in a downtown Beijing nightclub and uses Chinese proverbs in his lyrics to create social commentary. Wong, who became interested in hip-hop when he heard Public Enemy in the mid-‘90s, said rapping helps him deal with bitterness that comes with realizing he is one of the millions left out of China’s economic boom. “All people care about is money,” he said. “If you don’t have money, you’re treated like garbage. And if you’re not local to the city you live in, people discriminate against you; they give you the worst jobs to do.” [Ibid]
In the recent hit Hello Teacher, Yin Tsar, one of the hip-hop scene’s biggest acts (its name means The Three Shadows) rails against the authority of unfair teachers, and it does so in quite nasty language, It goes: You say you’re a role model but you spit on the ground outside The only cunting thing you know how to do is phone my father You’re shameless and useless Do whatever you want but don’t touch my CD player You fucking cunt I’ll listen to music in class if I want to. I’ll do my math homework in writing class. I drew a big cock in my copy book, that’s what I think of you.
Lack of Social Commentary and Politics in Chinese Hip-Hop
In response to the New York Times’s assertion that “many students and working-class Chinese” are rhyming about the “bitterness that comes with realizing---[they are] left out of China’s economic boom.” blogger Brendan O'Kane said: “This is horseshit. The angry Chinese rap I’ve heard is generalized teenage angst with no attempt at social commentary. The most “daring” rap I’ve heard is predicated on schoolboy puns about smoking pot.” [Source: Brendan O'Kane of bokane.org]
O’Kane wrote a typical attempt at social commentary, in this case from the group Yin Tsar goes: “Cabs come in 1.2 kuai and 1.6 kuai prices/ The traffic’s usually not bad, but sometimes there are traffic jams. / You don’t have to worry about restaurants---roast duck and zhajiang noodles/ Or Gui Jie to eat hotpot. There are too many choices, oh my god!”
O’Kane said a good example of song with political content is Yin Tsar’s Beijing Evening News , which goes: Big officials and leaders park outside night clubs Girls hiding in the toilet Whiskey and duck neck Models and starlets Sitting in a private room with stupid dicks Cops patrolling, Dongbei pimps Lots of college girls But student IDs get no discount Beijing is building But the people are changing Who is responsible for all of this?
Trying to Make a Living From Hip Hop in China
But making Chinese hip-hop is still a relatively profitless---and often subversive---activity. Wong said, “But if you want to take the next step to becoming mainstream, you hit a wall. If you aren’t singing their type of stuff or aren’t incredibly rich, they won’t sign you.” [Source: Jimmy Wang, New York Times, January 23, 2009]
Additionally, because of rampant music piracy, the corporate support of artists approved by powerful producers is one of the few ways to generate revenue for musicians here. Because corporate advertisers almost always seek out pop stars who have been given the blessing of producers representing state-run media, the underground music scene has had to live off the enthusiasm of young music aficionados without ever being able to gain backing to spread beyond nightclub walls. [Ibid]
Chinese Hip Hop Groups
Dragon Tongue is one of the top hip hop labels in China. Among its artist are the Dragon Tongue Squad, Sketch Crime. MC Webber and Kung Fu. When Webber wrote a song condemning people who had grown rich by cheating people authorities asked the rapper to write about something more positive. Kung Fu is perhaps the most government-friendly group. It warns teenagers not to act on impulse.
PTS, a hip hop group from Inner Mongolia, has drawn some attention in Beijing. They rap about the grassland from where they come and mix their local language and Mandarin in their raps. In their rap Say they chant “We grow up the arms of the sky. We hear our dignity and dreams deep in our heart. We don’t care about vanities, but making music of our own choice.”
Suhe, the 24-year-old front man of PTS, told the China Daily, “Though we live in the remote grasslands, we’ve al grown up watching the same cartoons and TV shows as other Chinese. “We are proud of out language which goes perfectly with the hip-hop beat.”
“The group Yin Ts’ang (its name means hidden), one of the pioneers of Chinese rap, is made up of global nomads: a Beijinger, a Chinese-Canadian and two Americans. The group’s first hit was In Beijing, from the band’s 2003 debut album, Serve the People (Scream Records); the title is a twist on an old political slogan. It sets a melody played on a thousand-year-old Chinese fiddle called the Erhu against a hip-hop beat that brings Run D.M.C. to mind. The song, an insider’s look at Beijing’s sights and sounds, took the underground music scene by storm, finding its way into karaoke parlors, the Internet and even the playlist of a radio station in Beijing.” [Source: Jimmy Wang, New York Times, January 23, 2009]
“There’s a lot of cats that can rap back home,” said Jeremy Johnston, a member of the group and the son of a United States Air Force captain, told the New York Times. “But there’s not a lot of cats that can rap in Chinese. Johnston moved to Beijing in the late “90s because, he said, it was the thing nobody else was doing. [Ibid]
After seven years together, Zhong Cheng, the Canadian in the group and Johnston of Yin Ts’ang still struggle to pay the bills, but they haven’t stopped making hip-hop, which they now do under their own independent label, YinEnt. [Ibid]
Explaining how thegroup got started, Zhing told the New York Times, “When I got here and met Jeremy, we were both so inspired by these people,we were like, “Let’s drop some Chinese rhymes for the locals,” and our Chinese friends were like, “There are no Chinese rhymes!,” and we were like, “That’s crazy!” From that day, we haven’t stopped rhyming.” [Ibid]
Chinese Mongolian Rap
Reporting from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, Tom Hancock of AFP wrote: “In a sprawling industrial city in Inner Mongolia, three rappers surround a microphone, dressed in the baseball caps, baggy trousers and branded trainers favoured by hip hop fans the world over. The sparsely populated region in northeastern China counts mining and milk among its main industries, and locals are more familiar with throat-singing than rapping. But members of China's Mongolian ethnic minority, whose ancestors were first united by Genghis Khan, are turning to hip hop to condemn the resources boom they say is wreaking havoc on their traditions and lands -- while avoiding the authorities' attention. [Source: Tom Hancock, AFP, September 20, 2012]
"Herders are bribed with cash, and our land is torn up by machines," the trio, who go by the English name Poorman, rap in their track "Tears". "Brothers and sisters, we need to wake up!" Once an economic backwater, the development of thousands of coal mines to tap Inner Mongolia's vast mineral reserves has made the region one of China's fastest-growing. But while some have prospered from the mining boom, other Mongolians resent being displaced from their land to make room for the mines, which they say scar the steppe and discriminate against them in recruiting. "There are all these songs about the beauty of Inner Mongolia's grasslands, but when people come to visit they realise it's being turned into desert," said band member Sodmuren, 25, who like many Mongolians uses a single name. [Ibid]
The region's rappers adopted the genre a decade ago from their ethnic fellows in neighbouring Mongolia, an independent country which has had a thriving hip hop scene for more 20 years. "Hip hop is the most honest kind of music there is," Sodmuren told AFP in a recording studio in Inner Mongolia's capital, Hohhot, where swathes of newly built concrete apartment blocks stretch into the grassy countryside. [Ibid]
China's Mongolians have seen their traditional way of life transformed by government policies encouraging nomadic herders to abandon their grazing lands for flats in the cities. As a result, most of the region's rappers grew up in an urban environment. But Sodmuren and his bandmates retain a fascination with nomadic culture, incorporating pastoral imagery into their music. One of Poorman's videos shows the band sitting outside traditional tents, known as yurts, with one member wearing the deel, a Mongolian gown. "Although we grew up in yurts, after years in the city we're forgetting our culture," they sing. [Ibid]
A few minutes' drive away from their studio, a sprawling Gucci store is testament to the new class of millionaires created by the mining boom, and their splurging on luxury cars and clothing. But Eregjin, a baseball-capped 27-year-old solo rapper who has been singing under the name MC Bondoo since he was a teenager, said: "We don't admire luxury culture. We hate materialism, and the worship of expensive things." He has the national symbol of independent Mongolia tattooed on his right arm. [Ibid]
Ethnic identification can be a sensitive topic in China, where the government is anxious to avoid social unrest. When a Han Chinese coal truck driver ran over a Mongolian herdsman in 2011 it triggered more than a week of protests by hundreds of people in cities and towns across the region. A rapper known as Syrlig was detained by authorities in 2011 after writing a song called "Stand up, Inner Mongolians!" several singers told AFP. He has since moved to Mongolia, the rappers said. [Ibid]
"There are some lyrics we'd sing in shows, but if we published them we'd be arrested," MC Bater, a member of one of Inner Mongolia's most successful hip hop groups, PTS, told AFP. But the scene's low profile, combined with a degree of self-censorship---declining to target individuals or the ruling Communist Party by name “allows Mongolian rappers to escape censure from the authorities. "I complain about government officials in my songs, but I don't name anyone directly," Sodmuren said. "I have to be smart."s
Rap Song Dedicated to Mergen—the Killed Mongolian Herder
On May 29, 2011, one day before the planned large-scale Mongolian demonstration in Hohhot, regional capital of Southern Mongolia, a rap song dedicated to Mr. Mergen was banned and removed from all Chinese Internet sites immediately after it was posted. Mergen was a Mongolian herder who was brutally killed by a Chinese coal hauling truck in Southern (Inner) Mongolia's Shiliin-gol League for defending his grazing land from Chinese miners. His killing sparked the recent large-scale protests and demonstrations by Mongols all over Southern Mongolia. Originally posted on a Chinese popular discussion site "Wang Pan 115.com, the song was intended to tell the Chinese authorities what the Mongols think about Mergen's death, the economic exploitation of the grasslands and Internet censorship. [Source: Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center <+>]
Immediately after it appeared on the Internet, many Chinese micro blogs and Internet discussion forums quickly disseminated the song. This was picked up within several hours by the Chinese Internet censorship apparatus which removed it from all sites in China. The song was posted on one of the most popular Chinese social media "Tui Ya"), the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, but was removed immediately. The links appear to be live but return the following message "The file cannot be downloaded due to its controversial contents". <+>
Reportedly the author and singer of the song is a Mongolian college student from eastern Southern Mongolia's Tongliao City. Since the publication of his song on the Internet on May 29, he has been repeatedly summoned to the local State Security Bureau and warned not to go online or have any contact with outsiders. Friends have lost contact with him since then. The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) was able to obtain a copy of the song along with its Chinese transcript. The following is an English translation of the lyrics and the original song in mp3 format with its Chinese transcript. <+>
Song Dedicated to Mergen, Hero of the Grasslands: Yo, I am a Mongol even if I sing my rap in Chinese No matter what you say I am a Mongol Mongol blood flows in my veins The vast Mongolian steppe is my homeland Once green Mongolian plateau turned to yellow Beautiful grasslands turning to desert The government says it is the herders' fault Have you ever thought about it carefully? Whose fault is it really? Overgrazing is a myth and a lie We have grazed animals here thousands of years Why has the desertification started since only a few decades ago? How many people are coming here to open up mines and plunder our resources? How many people are coming here to cultivate the grasslands and plant those crops? How many dams are built to deplete the water that sustains the grassland? How many rivers are stopped to water the farm lands? Our homeland is ruined like this That's why I say damn shit your "Western Development" You sacrifice our environment, develop your economy and spend the money made out of it With the leftovers you hire the dogs to oppress us Halt all industries and projects that destroy our grassland ecosystem! Grassland is mother of all Mongols that can no longer survive the destruction On May 11 something there happened Something that broke the hearts of all Mongols A fellow Mongol was intentionally killed Mergen is his name The name means intelligence and wisdom He wakened us all with his death United herders finally stood up Together we demonstrated to mourn a son of the grasslands For what cause had Gaadaa Meirin fought against [the Chinese]? I am sure it refreshed the memory of every Mongol When the truck wheels crashed over his head When the herders became completely helpless The arrogant driver even claimed A herder's life costs no more than 400,000 (yuan) Flame of anger started to set the prairie ablaze We are arrows bundled together tightly No one can sever the bonds of souls and minds among us We stand together to protestWe march together bravely Right Ujumchin, Left Ujumchin, plus Shuluun Huh and Huveet Shar No matter where we are from, we are always together To protest strongly against the violence the authorities apply against us Peaceful protest is a right of the people When this huge event is taking place, you pretend as if nothing happened No single word is mentioned in CCAV "Social harmony" (he xie in Chinese) flooded the Internet, but no one knows what the exact situation is Internet sites in China are damn shit Mother f**king Ren Ren Site deletes all Mongolians posts Mother f**king micro blog removes my blog Mother f**king the State Security, mother f**king "tea invitation" (meaning detention, "bei he cha" in Chinese) Mother f**kers, I will say whatever I want to say I want freedom, yeah, return my freedom I want freedom, return my freedom Saying singing is my freedom, yeah, my damn freedom We will never ever be doomed, We are the Mongols, descendants of Chinggis Khan! United we stand together!Yeah, stand up my fellow Mongols! <+>
Six City: Uighur Hip-Hop
Chris Walker and Morgan Hartley wrote in The Atlantic, “In Urumqi’s poorest districts, some Uighur youth have turned to a non-traditional outlet for maintaining cultural pride: hip-hop. Since 2006, this home-grown rap and dance scene has drawn together thousands of Uighur fans across Xinjiang, and has even managed a feat the founders didn’t expect to achieve: attracting Han Chinese fans. Ekrem, aka Zanjir, was the first Uighur rapper and a co-founder of Six City, Urumqi’s most popular rap collective, for which he now serves as producer and business manager. It’s a part-time gig. In his spare time, he moonlights as a software developer, while other members of the collective drive hospital shuttles or work in traditional Uighur dance shows to make ends meet. [Source: Chris Walker and Morgan Hartley, The Atlantic, October 29, 2013 ***]
“In a simple basement studio wedged between tire stores in a Tianshan strip mall, Ekrem and three other Six City MCs crammed around a computer and a single microphone. On a shelf was a stack of records from their idols‹American hip-hop stars like Snoop, Eminem, Ice Cube, and 50 Cent. The men would have fit comfortably in urban America: Ekrem wore a black Dodgers cap, while Behtiyar, a fellow member, had slick-backed hair and wings tattooed on his forearms. Eager to show off, one rapper called “MC-5" started to freestyle. ***
“He was good. Rap in Uighur is fluid and quick, and the vowels come in rapid succession, from the back of the mouth, producing a smooth sound. “Uighur is much better for rap than Mandarin,” Behtiyar explained. “Uighur is phonetic, like English, so it’s easy to make dope rhymes.” By contrast, he said, it is more difficult to sing in Mandarin. ***
“But even Six City writes half of their lyrics in Chinese. Their reasoning for this is purely pragmatic. According to Ekrem, it makes Six City’s music more accessible to the mass market of Mandarin speakers. “And the Chinese Government censors less when you mix in Chinese lyrics” he said, with a smile. The collective has had to adapt to government pressure in other ways. “There’s a lot of lyrics we can’t express, so we have to be smart” Behtiyar said. Six City steers clear of politics and discrimination, and instead focuses their songs on Uighur pride or problems of drug and gambling addictions in Urumqi’s low-income neighborhoods. It’s an important way to raise awareness about the culture, and “show China that we’re not a bunch of primitives” says Ekrem, referring to a frequent Han stereotype of Uighurs. ***
Social Forces Behind Six City: Uighur Hip-Hop
Chris Walker and Morgan Hartley wrote in The Atlantic, ““It’s easy to see why Six City’s young rappers feel marginalized. They hail from Tianshan, a neighborhood on Urumqi’s southern edge, away from the elevated freeways and skyscrapers that have transformed the city over the last 15 years. The buildings in Tianshan are squat and gray, and feature the Uighur language’s Arabic script on storefronts. One resident, an interpreter, described the neighborhood as “Urumqi’s Harlem.” [Source: Chris Walker and Morgan Hartley, The Atlantic, October 29, 2013 ***]
“Six City has other reasons to rap in Uighur—it’s part of their heritage. Because it’s difficult to get a job with a degree from a Uighur school, more Uighurs are studying in Chinese. “It’s important to protect our language. Sometimes I see these Uighur kids out in the street speaking Chinese to each other,” Ekram said, shaking his head. He added that there are only ten really good Uighur rappers. “Most Uighurs rap in Chinese. They go study Chinese in school, and they just can’t find the right words in Uighur.” ***
“Still, Six City struggles when hit with events outside their control, such as the ethnic riots that shook Urumqi in July 2009. Following the turmoil, which pitted the city’s Han and Uighur populations against each other, Urumqi’s hip-hop scene shut down for a year. Groups like Six City couldn’t hold concerts because of a ban on public gatherings, or spread new music online because of severe Internet restrictions. The collective decided it was too dangerous to hold their famous underground house parties, and didn’t perform together again until 2011. Even today, in a calmer Urumqi, Ekrem treads lightly. The producer will not release MC5's upcoming album officially because all the lyrics are in Uighur. To avoid censorship, Ekrem plans to print the album on blank CDs and sell copies for 5 RMB (about 80 U.S. cents) in the capital’s bars and streets. ***
Uighur Hip-Hop’s Han Chinese Fans
Chris Walker and Morgan Hartley wrote in The Atlantic, “Nevertheless, the two albums Six City have released have helped broaden their exposure and attract attention from Han Chinese fans. In September, Six City was invited to Beijing to perform their second concert in the capital in the past two years. On a packed floor at the Mako Live House, the mostly-Han crowd eyed Six City’s MCs, who were dressed in bright jumpsuits and baseball caps, with curiosity. Though some of the collective’s music videos have achieved popularity on Youku (China’s YouTube), they still remain unfamiliar to most audiences. Some thought that they were from a foreign country. [Source: Chris Walker and Morgan Hartley, The Atlantic, October 29, 2013 ***]
“Yo Yo Yo” Murkat, the lead rapper, shouted, waving his arm up and down like Eminem. A thick plume of smoke shot up from the front of the stage. Lights flashed. The beat dropped. And the group launched their most popular song, “Cuyla.” “Praise, Praise, Praise your land! Praise your homeland!” they sang in Uighur. The crowd danced and cheered wildly. The music sounded fresh. Many started waving their arms‹mimicking the Uighur performers. ***
“Word about Six City seems to be spreading. Later on in the trip, in the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou, Ekrem was surprised to find himself somewhat of a celebrity. As he was walking through the airport to catch a flight back to Urumqi, a Han fan rushed up to him. “Hey! Was that you rapping at the concert in Beijing?”“Yeah.” “That was awesome.” ***
Squeaky-Clean, State-Endorsed Chinese Hip Hop Groups
Real gritty, urban hip-hop doesn’t get that much state media exposure. Few hip-hop artists have been on the annual Chinese Lunar New Year gala, which I watched by half a billion people. What often passes for hip hop are high-speed raps tacked onto the end of their songs, even ballads, by Hong Kong, mainland and Taiwanese pop stars who consider themselves rappers.
“Jay Chou, a popular pop singer turned rapper from Taiwan who has been featured in advertisements for Pepsi, Panasonic and China Mobile, is the archetype of a mainstream performer here. Clean-cut and handsome, he appeals to a sense of nationalist pride. His hit song Huo Yuanjia is based on a patriotic Chinese martial artist glorified in Chinese textbooks for traveling the country to challenge foreigners in physical combat.” He is one of the few “hip-hop” that have appeared in the Chinese Lunar New Year gala. [Source: Jimmy Wang, New York Times, January 23, 2009]
Fans of Chou vehemently assert that his music is hip-hop, while denigrating groups like Yin Tsar. “I don’t know what groups like Yin Tsar are trying to do,” Hua Lina, a 35-year-old accountant told the New York Times. “They dress like bums, and sometimes they take off their shirts at performances, screaming like animals. Their lyrics are dirty---why would I want to pay to see that?” [Ibid]
Hip Hop Granny
On the hip hop stage, young people wearing loose, colorful clothes and rapping take the leading roles, but among them a well-dressed woman stands out and receives more applause. The woman is 72 years old. Unlike other elderly women, who are busy with housework or have resigned themselves to a quiet life, Wu Ying, arguably the oldest hip-hop dancer in China, has found another way to spend her time. [Source: Cao Yin, China Daily, June 2, 2011]
Under Wu's guidance, a team of five senior women has won many competitions in a field dominated by young people. Audiences call the women "the granny hip-hop dancing team". "I have been racing against time and have never given up my dreams to dance," Wu told METRO with obvious confidence.
In the 1960s, a notice about selections for new performers in Beijing attracted the 18-year-old Wu. But family pressure and objections from her workplace forced the talented young dancer and actor to return to her original job. "I preferred challenging and exciting work rather than a monotonous one, but I had no choice at that time because I had to earn a living," said Wu, who used to do the construction budget, and settled accounts for a company. However, Wu's dream of being a performer never died and has burst into life now she is retired.
She has never forgotten the date, Aug 6, 2003, when she first saw hip hop on a TV competition. Her dancing team took shape soon after that. "The novel dancing style and the dancers' cool clothes fascinated me, but I realized that no older people participated in it," she said. "This aroused my fighting instincts. I decided to establish an old people's hip-hop team to take part in a dancing competition the following year."
Wu started to imitate hip-hop stars' clothes and practiced rap every day. However, contrary to Wu's expectations, learning hip hop and forming a dance team proved difficult. As well, younger people tended to ignore her. At the beginning, a 22-year-old coach did not want to teach Wu because of her age, her physical condition and her memory. Meanwhile, Wu's neighbors, who were mostly professors and teachers, disapproved of her unusual clothes and thought what she did was not suitable for a senior citizen.
"I ignored their comments," Wu said. "I insisted on doing what I wanted to do because I knew I was right and I could do it." At classes Wu stood in the first row to follow the coach's fast movements and afterwards wrote down each main point. She also bought a hip-hop CD to become more familiar with street dancing. She even dreamed about hip hop. In this way, she knew every movement after three months. This amazed the coach and greatly encouraged Wu, who started looking for dance groups.
At first, few elderly people wanted to join her team, most of them believing hip hop belonged to the younger generations. What was worse, Wu's daughter, a civil servant in the city, laughed at her mother's behavior and they had many quarrels about it. "She thought I was running wild and didn't want to go out with me," Wu said, adding that the disapproval of her close family members saddened her.
Although she felt misunderstood and depressed, Wu was starting to find dance partners. On Feb 10, 2004, she finally persuaded four aged people to learn hip hop from her. From that day when her dance team was founded, Wu threw herself into hip-hop exercises. "I forgot tiredness and was full of energy," she said. "I had a great passion for it and enjoyed the dancing process with all my heart."
On July 9, 2004, the granny hip-hop dancing team, with an average age of 60, took to the stage at China's hip-hop dancing competition and was voted the No 3 team. "Compared with the young competitors, our team was very nervous," she said. "With our muscles tense, we danced mechanically. But we weren't intimidated by the younger people and performed more than 300 movements in our three-minute routine." After that, Wu developed more hip-hop moves and has never stopped pursuing her dance dream.
In 2007, the granny team was invited to perform on China Central Television's 2007's Spring Festival Gala. Since then, Wu's daughter has changed her mind about hip hop and has helped the granny team, because she realized her mother was doing what she really loved."My daughter gradually accepted me as a fashionable mother full of young people's ideas," said Wu. "Eventually she joined us to become the youngest member of the team.
Now, Wu teaches hip-hop classes at a fitness club and calls on more senior citizens to dance as a way to enrich their later years. "Although we are old physically, our states of mind shouldn't fade away," she said. "The aged must lighten up their lives and be part of the modern world." Wu raised her head and said: "I don't want to be a watcher. I want to take a leading role in my own life." Dancing on the hip-hop stage with young people and her older colleagues, Wu has never felt lonely and has enjoyed every second, because she is living a dream she has had from her childhood. "My springtime set off again," the hip-hop granny said with a big smile. "My dancing dream is blooming now."
Techno and Raves in China
As of 2007, 2Kolegas, a bar inside a drive-in movie theater in eastern Beijing, and Sugar Jar, a Beijing music store, were ground zero for China’s avant-garde music scene. The former hosts a range of experimental and abstract electronica musicians. The latter sells recordings with titles like China; the Sonic Avant-Garde. Recordings deemed successful sell hundreds of copies. Artists make the little money they make playing at art galleries and making ambient music for real estate developers.
Techno artists active in Beijing include Wang Fan; Sulumi; Yan Jun; FM3, the inventors of the drone-producing Buddha Machine; 718 (the performer Sun Wei); the rock musician Dou Wei, who has a number of spacey recordings that use traditional Chinese instruments; Huanqing, a Sichian-based group that records traditional folk music in villages and manipulates it electronically; and Tortured Nurse, described by the New York Times as one of the “most extreme noise groups” in China.
Many of these artist have evolved on their own in isolation with relatively little influence from the West. Many find this very exciting. The critic and musician Yan Jun told the New York Times, “Chinese people don’t know the best music system. There are no rules. No teacher. I can use this, I can use that---that’s all interesting. In the West everything was created already. But here we don’t know that..”
Among those who have given their approval to the Chinese electronic scene are British musician and producer Brian Eno and New York guitarist Elliot Sharp.Kenneth Field, a professor of electronic music in Beijing, told the New York Times, “Media is very centrally controlled at the top; at the bottom it seems to be a mirror of anarchy. There’s no innovation at the top, but at the bottom there’s a lot of informal freedoms.”
Raves are have been held in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and other places. Many young people from Hong Kong head to Shenzhen for raves. Fruit Flavor Vitamin C is a popular techno-guitar band.
“Yan Jun is a creative polymorph,” Christen Cornell wrote in Artspace China. ‘search on his name on the Internet and you’ll come up with a list of roles---from experimental sound artist, to critic, to curator, to performance poet---and stories of his pioneering in China's underground music scene from the late 1990s to early 2000s. In 1998 he began the independent label, Sub Jam, initially to publish zines and later for music CDs; and in 2004 he established Kwanyin records for the release of more experimental works. From June 2005 to December 2010, Yan and his Sub Jam community organised a series weekly of performances called Waterland Kwanyin at the Beijing Bar, 2Kolegas, serving up rock, experimental and electronic music to an ever-morphing crowd of listeners. Both Sub Jam and Kwanyin continue, supported by a regularly updated blog, as do gigs, and the general greasing of communal and creative activities for which Yan Jun has become widely known. [Source: Christen Cornell, Artspace China , August 27, 2011]
Yan remains one of China’s most important experimental artists, pushing the limits of sound, language and music in his own performances and recordings. Translator, Maghiel van Crevel once said Yan Jun makes things happen, and there is no doubt that Yan has this generative role. Raised in Lanzhou, but based in Beijing since the late 1990s, Yan is something of a creative catalyst, preferring the early and ambiguous stages of invention and putting a high value on the amorphous in artistic communities.
Yan views on politics, music and social change are respected. He once said, for example: “in Europe everybody is bored and looking for change, while in China things are changing every day but people are waiting for real change.” On that statement he added, “Everybody feels like something big needs to change in China. But how to participate in this change? How to be the one---or how to avoid to being the one---who brings about that change? On the fear of change, Yan aid, “Because real change always comes as something beyond your imagination, beyond your will. Andy Warhol once said Be careful of what you want, because one day you might get it. In other words, You don’t really know what you want. You don’t know what you are fighting for. So the most important thing is to know.
Yan told Artspace China, “I think many people are in this state of disappointment. They feel powerless. It’s as if one day you were once in a prison, in a dark room, but today you have been released. But the thing is you’ve never moved, you’re still in the same place---it’s just that the prison has turned into a supermarket. You have everything now, everything that you ever wished for, and more. And that’s exactly why you feel powerless.
Image Sources: Fan, artist and Chinese rock websites and blogs ; Asia Obscura http://asiaobscura.com/ ; YouTube
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated December 2013