In a recent post, Elaine Chow at Shanghaiist
linked an AFP story that called out Chinese rock as being toothless because it wasn't political
I felt the article was shallow and had a number of conceits and dodgy premises. It held China to standards not present in The West and falsely imagined a past where China had an independent scene that was political motivated.
My post is buried now but there have been some thoughtful comments which I would like to re-present here. Thanks to those who contributed.
The discussion comes after the jump ... enjoy.
Archie Hamilton of Splitworks says:
For me, music is cyclical and moves in step with political/ economic conditions. When people feel sated and happy (the 90's and 00's in the West), then the music becomes bland and non-confrontational. When people feel margionalised and disaffected, they turn to music that is angry and anti-establishment. Witness what is happening to music in the West at the moment.
Exactly, we see similar trends in both scenes, with only a minority of bands being permanently engaged in politics (also of varying takes).
I also think it's important to remember that many bands in the China rock/indie scene are in genres which have very little connection to political activism at any time. Which is why Car Sick Cars was a bad choice to start that original article.
It just highlighted the generalizations that people throw at China.
Sean Leow of Neocha chips in:
I think Archie makes a good point here.
Really hard to generalize on something as big as the post-80s generation in China, but in general, I agree with Shen Lihui's statement that kids are "just not that interested in politics."
Max from Rock-in-China Wiki says:
One interesting point for me is the general use of the idea of music in China since the start of the century, which might help to explain the sometimes quoted "missing" of a statement: Throughout the civil war struggles and afterwards cultural revolution music was always less than the enjoyment of music and always just the container of a message. The established function of music without a message only slightly came through over the years.
And one statement on the side: 'we' always talk about 'the Chinese bands', 'the West', etc. generalizing without factual basis. Without figures (numbers) there wont be any jugdement possible, only personal opinions. My idea would be to make a simple chart. Write down the names of bands that are making political statements, then those that dont. Make it in both China and The West and then you have a first starter for a factual conversation :). Otherwise its mainly guessing in the fog.
The emergence of punk in the UK was a lot more political than it was in the US in NYC and So Cal, as a lot of histories of punk note. The argument is pretty much that economic conditions in the late 70s were shittier in the UK and kids making the music were there more aware of the impact of deteriorating economic and political conditions on their society than kids in the US, where punk was more of a lifestyle choice--so skate punk emerges from So Cal suburbs and art punk and horror punk and other less-political forms emerge in NYC.
I think there's plenty wrong with that narrative (it's not like Black Flag or the DKs or Minutemen weren't political or that the Damned are some kind of political radicals), but it does hold true in a lot of ways. It also shows that an artform or musical trend may transfer in a lot of ways from one cultural context to another, but there's a lot that's lost (or gained) in the transfer.
So with China, I'm thinking:
Punk in China has accompanied broadly improving economic conditions as lifestyle consumerism has become an arena of relative freedom even as political activism and organizing is stymied by the gov.
That could change a lot... if the economy goes to hell, as seems pretty likely, a lot of that general youthful resistance to mainstream culture and China's materialistic excess might just turn political. Lots of unemployed disaffected youth hanging around depressing housing projects? Sounds like the UK in the 70s. There's a network in place, there are people with voices and an audience... the conditions for it being more overtly political might might not have ripened, but might yet.
My favourite California 3rd gen punk band are Operation Ivy who were very political. The life style choice skate punk came a while after that. About the same time that the mainstream industries jumped all over skate clothing too and Vans et al became widely popular.
Also, I have to say that while you and Archie pick up on a certain trend ... I personally don't subscribe to the life=economics theory, in the same way.
Punk bands I like, take Propagandhi, came out of a stable background but philosophically disagree with corporate policies in the developed world, militarism, animal cruelty etc - regardless of their own communities level of affluence or freedom.
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