The Andreas Steen Collection
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By Andreas Steen
This collection of Chinese music includes various styles and genres that are usually summarized and described as “popular music”. I am particularly grateful to Barbara Mittler, who both encouraged me and provided the space to make this collection available for a wider audience. I am equally thankful to the staff at the Department of Sinology, Heidelberg University, who spent many days and hours to transfer the music into the new digital format. I hope that this project will stimulate scholars from different fields to learn more about the history and style of Chinese pop and rock music, last not least with the aim, to increase thorough research on this still underdeveloped research topic.
Roughly speaking, the collection covers the period of the 1980ies until today. During this period, and for many reasons, China’s popular music underwent tremendous changes:
- The growth of a music market, which started with the popularity of the tape recorder in the 1980ies and the rise of the PRC’s more commercially oriented music industry.
- The increasing availability of foreign music, which reached Mainland China via different channels.
- Political liberation went hand in hand with cultural commercialisation in the early 1990s.
- New modes of musical production, music transfer and participation allowed for a rapid diversification in musical taste, style and practice.
Given these four factors, it is apt to say that the music of this collection reflects the PRC’s cultural, political, and economic changes of the reform period until now.
However, this music was not collected for a particular project and therefore does not contain all music produced in the Mainland since the 1980s. I began collecting Chinese music tapes during my first visit to the PRC in 1988, intensified this habit while I was a student at Fudan University, Shanghai (1990-1992), and afterwards continued this work whenever I was in China. Especially in the beginning, the selection of tapes and songs was closely related to my own preferences, which are easy to describe: I play drums and enjoy different music styles, e.g. jazz, funk, and certain forms of rock music. Thus, I frequently went to music stores and simply “looked at” the tapes (because you were not able to listen to them). I bought tapes which seemed to be interesting, but later turned out to be rather boring in terms of what I expected. I remember that the first interesting “sound” was that of Zhao Chuan from Taiwan, then I found “Beyond” from Hong Kong, Cui Jian from Beijing and others. In order to broaden my horizon of what was musically going on in China, and since music tapes were rather cheap commercial items for a foreigner in China (about 7-12 yuan in the early 1990s), I ended up buying everything that was popular to the Chinese, “looked” interesting, or was recommended by friends or shop owners in different parts of China.
This being the general situation, I nevertheless became more “professional” while I studied in Shanghai, either through my own musical experience and Chinese friends, and because I came into close contact with the publisher of the music magazine Yinxiang shijie (Audio & Visual World). My selection of tapes was guided by two questions: First, what kind of music do Chinese audiences like to hear (and why)? Second, what are the “roots” of Chinese rock music, or: what did people hear before rock music appeared and how did theses music styles develop? Therefore, my focus of attention also shifted to the popular music of Taiwan and Hong Kong (gangtai yinyue), and to a great number of newly “remixed” revolutionary songs that were released in the PRC.
In terms of rock and pop music, it was a fortunate and inspiring coincidence that the Taiwanese publishing house Gunshi (Rock Records and Tapes) released and heavily promoted the first successful Beijing Chinese rock albums – after Cui Jian (1988/89) – during my stay in Shanghai in 1992: The heavy metall band “Tang Dynasty” (Tang chao), the rock band “Panther” (Heibao), female folk composer Ai Jing and the Rock-compilation “China Fire I” (Zhongguo Huo I). In summer 1994, three albums of the stylistic rather diverse musicans He Yong, Zhang Chu and Dou Wei followed. During those years, many new bands appeared in Beijing and elsewhere. Gradually rock music developed into a more or less accepted musical genre within the commercial arena of pop music in Mainland China. Following this boom, the mid-1990s are usually seen as a period of slow progress, the only exception was the rise of Chinese punk. One can say that a new period began with the “New Sound Movement” in Beijing, which to a certain extent was promoted through Modern Sky Records (Modeng tiankong), founded in Beijing by Shen Lifu in 1997.
Today, Beijing’s rock community consists of three generations who perform everything from heavy metal to pop rock, folksong to digital hardcore, grunge and blues rock to punk etc. While the genres are promoted by both national and international record companies and via the internet, the musicians engage themselves in ideological debates over the meaning and authenticity of Chinese rock. Topics such as social responsibility, Chinese characteristics and/or internationalisation are frequently discussed in the media. Bands are formed and split apart, some are more successful than others and manage to participate in big concerts in- and outside the capital. Considering the rock scenes that have already emerged in cities like Shanghai, Chengdu, Canton etc. one cannot speak of Chinese rock as such, but rather of a heterogeneous field. All these different styles are part of the collection, either in solo-albums or in samplers, which contain various artists and were released throughout the whole period. The artists, their music, the lyrics and leaflets are not only part of China’s transformation over the last twenty years, they actively participated and formed the development. Given the diversity of China’s popular music, I hope that this collection will inspire more researchers from different fields to engage themselves in this cultural field.
Andreas Steen is Assistant Professor of Modern Chinese History and Culture at the Department of Chinese Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark.
He studied Sinology and English Literature at the Free University Berlin, and Chinese Language and Modern Literature in Shanghai, Fudan University. He did extensive research in the field of pop and rock music in China and in 2006 published his Ph.D.-thesis, which explores the early years of Shanghai’s music industry (1878-1937).
a) Chinese Publications
Cui Jian 崔健 / Zhou Guoping 周国平, Ziyou fengge 自由风格 (Free Style), Guilin: Guangxi shifan daxue chubanshe 2001.
黄燎原 et all. (ed.), Shi nian: Zhongguo liuxing yinyue jishi 十年中国流行音乐事 1986-1996 (Ten Years: A Chronic of Chinese Popular Music, 1986-1996), Beijing: Zhongguo dianying chubanshe 1997.
Lu Lingtao 陆凌涛 / Li Yang 李洋, Nahan wei le Zhongguo cengjing de yaogun 呐喊为了中国曾经的摇滚 (Scream For China’s Rock Music), Guilin: Guangxi shifan daxue chubanshe 2003.
Weng Jiaming 翁嘉铭, Cong Luo Dayou dao Cui Jian. Dangdai liuxing yinyue de gui 从罗大佑到崔健. 当代流行音乐的轨迹 (From Luo Dayou to Cui Jian. The Rise of China’s Modern Popular Music), Taibei: Shibao wenhua 1992.
Yan Jun 颜峻, Beijing xinsheng – New Sound of Beijing (A Sonic China Project) 北京新声, Changsha: 1999.
Yan Jun 颜峻, Didixia: Xin yinyue qianxing ji 地地下. 新音乐潜行记 (Underground: Secret Notes of New Music), Beijing: Wenhua yishu chubanshe 2002.
Yan Jun 颜峻, Ranshao de zaoyin 燃烧的噪音 (The Burning Noise), Nanjing: Jiangsu renmin chubanshe 2004.
b) Western Publications (selection)
Baranowitch, Nimrod, China’s New Voices. Popular Music, Ethnicity, Gender and Politics, 1978-1997, Berkeley: University of California Press 2003.
Barmé, Geremie, The greying of Chinese culture, in: China Review, Kap. 13, 1992, pp. 1-51.
Capdeville-Zeng, Catherine: Rites et Rock à Pékin. Tradition et modernité de la musique rock dans la société chinoise, Paris 2001.
Chow Yiu Fai / Jeroen de Kloet, Sounds from the margin — Beijing rock scene faces an uncertain future, in: CHIME - Journal of the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research, 10/11, 1997, pp. 123-128.
Davis, Edward (ed.), Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture, Routledge: Curzon 2004.
de Kloet, Jeroen, Marx or Market: Chinese Rock and the Sound of Fury, in: Jenny Kwok Wah Lau (ed.), Multiple Modernities: Cinemas and Popular Media in Transcultural East Asia. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2003, pp. 28-52.
de Kloet, Jeroen, Rock in a Hard Place. Commercial Fantasies in China's Music Industry, in: Stephanie Hemelryk Donald / Michael Keane / Yin Hong (eds.): Media in China. Consumption, Content and Crisis, Routledge: Curzon 2002, pp. 93-104.
de Kloet, Jeroen, Red Sonic Trajectories. Popular Music and Youth in Urban China, Ipskamp / Enschede 2001.
de Kloet, Jeroen, Let him fucking see the green smoke beneath my groin: The Mythology of Chinese Rock, in: Dirlik, Arif / Zhang Xudong (ed.): Postmodernism & China, Duke Univ. Press, Durham / London 2000, pp. 239-274.
Friedlander, Paul, China’s “Newer Value” Pop: Rock and Roll and Technology on the New Long March, in: Asian Music, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1991, pp. 67-81.
Gold, Thomas B., Go with your Feelings: Hong Kong and Taiwan Popular Culture in Greater China, The China Quarterly 136, 1993, pp. 907-925.
Gu Linxiu, Teresa Teng Forever (Yongyuan de Deng Lijun), in: Sinorama, 20:7 (July) 1995, pp. 6-19.
Heberer, Thomas (ed.), Yaogun Yinyue: Jugend-, Subkultur und Rockmusik in China – Politische und gesellschaftliche Hintergründe eines neuen Phänomens, Münster / Hamburg, 1995.
Hao Huang, Yaogun Yinyue: Rethinking Mainland Chinese Rock ‘n’ Roll, in: Popular Music, Vol. 20, No. 1, (Jan. 2001), pp. 1-11.
Ho, Wai-Chung, Social Change and Nationalism in China’s Popular Songs, in: Social History, Vol. 31, No. 4, Nov. 2006, pp. 435-453.
Jones, Andrew, Like a Knife. Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music, Ithaca: Cornell University 1992.
Jones, Andrew, The Politics of Popular Music in Post-Tiananmen China, in: Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom / Elizabeth J. Perry (eds.), Popular Protest and Political Culture in Modern China (Second Edition), Boulder / Colorado 1994, pp. 148-165.
Lee, Joanna Ching-Yun, All for Freedom: The Rise of Patriotic/Pro-Democratic Popular Music in Hong Kong in Response to the Chinese Student Movement, in: Garofalo, Reebee (ed.), Rockin’ the Boat - Mass Music and Mass Movements, Boston 1992, pp. 129-147.
Lee, Joanna Ching-Yun, Cantopop Songs on Emigration from Hong Kong, in: Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 24, 1992, pp. 14-23.
Schell, Orville, Discos and Democracy. China in the Throes of Reform, New York 1989.
Steen, Andreas, Zwischen Unterhaltung und Revolution. Grammophone, Schallplatten und die Anfänge der Musikindustrie in Shanghai, 1878-1937, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2006.
Steen, Andreas, Sound, Protest and Business. Modern Sky Co. and the New Ideology of Chinese Rock, in: Berliner China-Hefte, Nr. 18, 2000, pp. 40-64.
Steen, Andreas, Buddhism & Rockmusic – A New Music Style?, in: CHIME - Journal of the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research, No. 12/13, 1998, pp. 151-164.
Steen, Andreas, Der Lang Marsch des Rock ‘n’ Roll. Pop- und Rockmusik in der Volksrepublik China, Hamburg: Lit-Verlag 1996.
Steen, Andreas, Der Traum von der Tang-Dynastie, oder: Über die Anziehungskraft der Ehrlichkeit, in: PopScriptum, Vol. 3, 1995, pp. 80-100.