Talk explores history of punk rock in China

Benjamin Smith

The College of Liberal Arts’ Center for East Asian Studies will be holding a presentation by author David O’Dell tonight entitled “Inseparable: The Story of Chinese Punk Rock” about the Chinese punk rock movement that spanned from 1995 to 2003. The presentation will include a slideshow of Chinese Punk artists, audio clips from significant punk songs and a portion of the unreleased film “Beijing Punk” by director Shaun Jefford, which has been banned in China.

Chinese Rock evolved in the 1980s out of a combination of Chinese folk song traditions and Western popular music theory – things like a fast tempo, forceful beat and dominant bass lines. Early Chinese rock songs were characteristically idealistic and overtly political, speaking of Western ideas of individualism and reflecting dissatisfaction with the Communist state.

1986’s “Nothing To My Name” by Cui Jian is often recognized as the first true Chinese rock song. Jian is widely regarded as the father of Chinese rock and “Nothing To My Name” is considered his opus. The song was the unofficial anthem of activists during the Tiananmen Square protests in spring of 1989 and is seen as one of the most influential songs in the history of the People’s Republic of China, according to a November 2005 article from “The Independent”.

A doctoral dissertation by former UT philosophy PhD student Timothy Lane Brace titled “Modernization and Music in Contemporary China: Crisis, Identity, and the Politics of Style” details how after Tiananmen Square, Chinese rock became a facet of mainstream youth culture. The Communist party, feeling threatened by the cynicism and rejection of its ideals evident in Chinese rock enacted strict censorship that saw to the genre’s decline in the early 1990s.

By 1994, Chinese rock had gone underground, both to escape the pressure of the Communist party and to evade the commercialization of China’s growing market economy that was jeopardizing its message. Out of this combination of censorship and cultural frustration grew the Chinese punk rock movement – the focus of a book by David O’Dell on which tonight’s lecture is based.

Printed on October 10, 2011 as: Chinese punk movement focus of author's speech