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Cui Jian, considered the father of Chinese rock.
Music of China
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Chinese Rock (中国摇滚, pinyin: Zhōngguó yáogǔn; also 中国摇滚音乐, Zhōngguó yáogǔn yīnyuè, lit. "Chinese shaking and rolling music" or "Chinese rock and roll music") is a genre of music and lifestyle. Its instrumentation is typically modern and may be with or without traditional Chinese musical instruments. Chinese rock genre is occasionally referred as Mandorock & Cantorock depends on the usage of the song's language.



The Northwest Wind (1980s-1989)

Chinese Rock had its origins in Northwest Wind (西北风, xibeifeng) style of music, which emerged as a main genre in Mainland China[1]. The new style was triggered by two new songs, "Xintianyou" (信天游) and "Nothing To My Name" (一无所有), both of which drew heavily on the folk song traditions of northern Shaanxi Province in the northwest. They combined this with a western-style fast tempo, strong beat and extremely aggressive bass lines. In contrast to the mellow cantopop style, Northwest Wind songs were sung loudly and forcefully. It represented the musical branch of the large-scale Root-Seeking (寻根, xungen) cultural movement that also manifested itself in literature and in film.

Many Northwest Wind songs were highly idealistic and heavily political, parodying or alluding to the revolutionary songs of the Communist state, such as "Nanniwan" (南泥湾) and "The Internationale" (国际歌). It is, however, associated with the non-Communist national music side instead of the revolutionary side. The music reflected dissatisfaction among Chinese youth, as well as the influence of western ideas such as individuality and self-empowerment. Both music and lyrics articulated a sense of pride in the power of the northwest's peasantry. Songs such as "Sister Go Boldly Forward" (妹妹你大胆的往前走) came to represent an earthy, primordial masculine image of Mainland China, as opposed to the soft, sweet, polished urban gangtai style.

Prison songs (1988-1989)

"Prison Songs" (囚歌) became popular in 1988 and early 1989, parallel to the Northwest Wind style. The fad was initiated by Chi Zhiqiang (迟志强), who wrote lyrics about his time in jail and set them to folk melodies from northeast China. In contrast to Northwest Wind songs, prison songs were slow, "weepy" and invoked negative role models, often using vulgar language and expressing despair and cynicism. Their non-conformist values are apparent in such songs as "Mother Is Very Muddle-Headed" and "There Is Not a Drop of Oil in the Dish". The popularity of these songs reflected the fact that many people in China during the 1980s became tired of official artistic representations and discourse. The patrons of prison songs were the urban youth, and private entrepreneurs, who at that time were mostly from marginal backgrounds.

Birth of Chinese rock and roll (1984)

The birthplace of Chinese rock was in Beijing[2]. As the nation's capital, the music was highly politicised and open to a range of foreign influences. It was marginal for most of the 80s, consisting of live performances in small bars and hotels. The music was almost exclusively for the domain of university students and "underground" bohemian circles. In late 1989 and early 1990 Chinese rock partially emerged into mainstream music as a combination of the Northwest Wind and prison song fads.

The first Chinese rock song was arguably the Northwest Wind anthem "Nothing To My Name", first performed in 1984 by Cui Jian, widely recognised as the father of Chinese rock. The song introduced into post-revolutionary China a whole new ethos that combined individualism, direct and bold expression. It soon came to symbolise the frustration harboured by a disillusioned generation of young intellectuals who grew cynical about Communism and critical of China's traditional and contemporary culture. It also expressed, even for older Chinese, a dissatisfaction with unrealized promises of the Chinese regime.

In the spring of 1989, "Nothing To My Name" became the de-facto anthem of the student protestors at Tiananmen Square. Additionally, in May and July of that year, three of China's famous rock bands were established: Breathing (Huxi, 呼吸), Cobra (眼镜蛇), and Zang Tianshuo's (臧天朔) 1989. Earlier rock music groups include "Infallible" (Budaoweng 不倒翁), formed by Zang Tianshuo and Tang Dynasty (Tang Chao, 唐朝) lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Ding Wu (丁武), and probably the most famous of all Chinese rock bands: "Black Panther" (Hei Bao 黑豹), originally fronted by China's alternative music pioneer Dou Wei (窦唯).

Rise of Chinese rock and roll (1990-1993)

After the Tian'anmen Square protests, rock became part of general urban youth culture in China. Its rise from marginality was celebrated on 17 and 18 February 1990, when Beijing's largest ever all-rock concert was held in the Capital Gymnasium, one of the city's largest halls. The concert featured six rock bands, among them Cui Jian's ADO and Tang Dynasty (唐朝). The criterion that the organisers set as qualification to participate was "originality", generally a Western artistic ethos.

Chinese rock reached a peak of creativity and popularity between 1990 and 1993. Dozens of rock bands were established and rock music was performed on a regular basis. Because they were excluded from state controlled media such as CCTV, the main venue remained to be informal, small-scale, underground rock parties. The core participants in rock subculture adopted characteristic nonconformist appearance and behaviour. These included long hair for males, jeans, silver metal ornaments, black leather coats, and carefree, hippie-style behaviour. The decline of Northwest Wind and simultaneous rise of the rock fad represented a shift in the attitude of many of China's intellectuals. Nostalgia changed into an unequivocally fierce negation, a sense of alienation from China's traditional and rural culture.

Decline of Rock (1994)

By 1994, Chinese rock slowly began to decline. This can only be attributed to strict censorship by the Communist party, such as the banning of rock from television and restrictions on performances[2]. More importantly, the decline of rock reflected the general lack of interest in politicised cultural products, thoughts, or behaviour. People became more interested in engaging with the market economy, making money and improving their living standard. Cross-border cultural exchange facilitated by increased economic openness, and the radical commercialisation of the music industry in the mid-90s both lead to the import of overseas music, particularly from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Cantopop singers such as Andy Lau were backed up by well-resourced record companies and could raise revenues from film-making and advertising, two sources usually rejected by Chinese rock musicians. Moreover, the level of censorship imposed on c-pop was less damaging, since gangtai culture is more independent from mainland culture.

Rock musicians such as Tian Zhen and Xu Wei have adapted their subject matter to the cantopop style and achieved commercial success. By western standards, it could even be classified as Eastern-style country rock music. Others, such as the self-styled punk He Yong have fiercely resisted cantopop culture and their imitators on the mainland. In 1995 a handful of younger punk bands (Brain Failure, Reflector, A Jerks, and 69) produced an album called "Wuliao Contingent," (无聊军队, better translated as "Battalion of Boredom") representing the boredom and frustration collectively felt within the urban landscape. At the forefront was Brain Failure, the most successful of these bands, who continue to tour the world with their ska/punk sound. English is used to both express what Chinese lyrics cannot and also in imitation of foreign musicians. One of the significant turning points for rock was Cui Jian's performance with The Rolling Stones in 2003 at the age of 42. It opened the genre to the rest of the world for the first time.

Rock Revival (2000-present)

From 2000-2004 post punk and extreme metal entered the underground scene and ascended among the fans, and some Visual kei & Gothic Lolita. In 2004-2005, Beijing's Joyside went on their first tour of China. American filmmaker Kevin Fritz followed them to make the film Wasted Orient. It was released on DVD in 2007 by Plexifilm[3]. The film is China's version of Decline Of Western Civilization. It depicts comically the pitfalls associated with trying to tour a country that has little taste for Rock n' Roll music. In this film the original line-up of Joyside including Bian Yuan, Liu Hao, Fan Bo, Yang Yang, & Xin Shuang shows these colorful characters drowning away in alcohol is both hilarious and depressing at the same time. The film also includes some of Joyside's early music, which brought them some recognition. The film Wasted Orient is non-political, and strays away from making any superficial social commentary. While Joyside is not particularly known for the talent, the film present Chinese rock music in the new millennium in the most authentic, raw, and genuine form.

Director Kevin Fritz:
The film Wasted Orient is what it is pure and simple. It's honest. It is the true way of Chinese rock n' roll. It's not glamorous. It's filthy. It's filled with despair. It's very unwanted in that society and is shown in its citizens' apathetic response to it

Presently, Chinese Rock has a new forum in the popular Television program, Pepsi Battle of the Bands, 百事群音 [1] a weekly Live program featuring top 10 Rock bands from all over China who compete for weekly survival. Each Episode features guest Celebrities such as, Cui Jian (崔健), Paul Wong (黄贯中), Richie JEN (任贤齐), Wang Feng (汪峰), Fan Van (范逸臣), Jolin (蔡依林), Mayday (五月天), and Show Luo (罗志祥)to name a few. The show is sponsored by Pepsi, and produced by Ato Ato Integrated Media.

The Beijing Midi Modern School of Music and Music Festival

Another important step in the development of Chinese rock music had been the Beijing Midi School of Music in Beijing. Established 1993 by Zhang Fan, it was the first school in China offering classes for jazz music and rock music. Started as a school festival in 1999, the Midi Modern Music Festival advanced to the largest rock music festival in China with up to 80000 visitors and over 100 bands. Both the school and the festival supported the underground scene in China and opened the door for over 18 foreign bands in 2006 to perform at the festival and throughout the country. (i.e. Alev, Monokino, Yokohama Music Association, The Wombats, etc.). 1

In addition to the Midi school, the Painkiller Heavy Music Magazine started efforts to bring bands such as Edguy, Lacrimosa and Hatesphere to China and organized China tours for them. Especially in the metal and gothic genre these tours are considered milestones in China.

The 2008 Olympics and the Sichuan earthquake

A major drawback for the music scene in general was the cancellation of several events leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games, including the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. The 2008 Midi Modern Music Festival was cancelled (cancellation note) and delayed to October 2008, the Soilwork gig (preannouncement) had to be cancelled, as the band did not receive their visas and the German Esplanade in Chongqing was stopped by the organizers (change note).

The Sichuan Earthquake in general shook the music scene and spawned dozens of "We are together" and "Think of Sichuan" gigs and charity events throughout Beijing and other cities. London Chinese Radio made a Special Earthquake Edition on their New Sounds of China podcast to cover this.


Audio samples of Chinese Rock
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  • 1976
  • 1989
  • Angry Jerks
  • Ashura ("阿修羅" A Xiu Luo)
  • Again ("轮回" Lunhui)
  • AK-47
  • Anodized
  • Baboo
  • Black Box
  • Black Panther ("黑豹" Hei Bao)
  • Brain Failure ("腦濁" Nao Zhuo)
  • Carsick Cars
  • Cavesluts
  • Cobra ("眼镜蛇" Yanjingshe)
  • Cold Blooded Animals ("冷血动物" Lengxue Dongwu)
  • Cold Fairyland ("冷酷仙境" Lengku Xianjing)
  • Confucius Says ("子曰" Ziyue)
  • Demerit
  • Dzap Dau Dau
  • Fall Insects ("秋天的虫子" Qiutian de Chongzi)
  • The Flowers (“花儿乐队” Huar Yuedui)
  • The Frogs ("青蛙乐队" Qingwa Yuedui)
  • 43 Baojia Street ("鲍家街43号" Baojia Jie 43 Hao)
  • Gemini ("简迷离" Jiànmílí)
  • Hang On The Box ("挂在盒子上" Gua zai Hezi shang)
  • Happy Avenue ("幸福大街" Xingfu Daijie)
  • Hedgehog
  • Hutong Fist ("胡同拳头" Hutong Quantou)
  • Iron Joker ("艾侬乔克")
  • Infinite Sound ("无限音" Wu Xian Yin)
  • Joyside
  • Labor Exchange Band ("交工樂隊" Jiao Gong Yuedui)
  • Left and Right ("左右" Zuo You)
  • LGF (Little Green Frog)
  • Mortal Fools
  • MUMA (木马)
  • Overload ("超载" Chaozai)
  • Nand ("与非门" Yufeimen)
  • New Pants ("裤子" xīn kùzi)
  • Pangu, ("盘古") sometimes known as PunkGod
  • Ping Pung
  • P.K. 14
  • Proximity Butterfly (变色蝴蝶)
  • Queen Sea Big Shark ("后海大鲨鱼")
  • Perdel("逃跑计划")
  • Reflector ("反光镜" Fanguangjing)
  • Ruins ("废墟" Feixu)
  • Second Hand Rose ("二手玫瑰" Ershou Meigui)
  • Sick Larvae ("病蛹" Bingyong)
  • Silver Ash ("银色灰尘" Yinse Huichen)
  • Sober ("清醒" qīngxǐng)
  • SUBS
  • Suffocated("窒息" Zhi Xi)
  • Spring and Autumn ("春秋" Chūn Qiū)
  • Supermarket ("超级市场" Chaoji Shichang)
  • Tang Dynasty ("唐朝" Tang Chao)
  • The Catcher in the Rye ("麦田守望者" Maitian Shouwangzhe)
  • The Samans ("萨满" Sa Man)
  • Total Maverick Decadence (TMD)
  • Tomahawk ("战斧" Zhanfu)
  • Twisted Machine ("扭曲的机器" Niuqu De Jiqi)
  • What? ("什么" Shenme)
  • Wild Children ("野孩子" Ye Haizi)
  • Wood Pushing Melon ("木推瓜" Mu Tui Gua)
  • Yao (妖)
  • Yaksa ("夜叉" Yecha)
  • Zen
  • Zuriaake ("葬尸湖" Zang Shi Hu)


  1. ^ Garofalo, Reebee. [1992] (1992). Rockin' the Boat: mass music and mass movements. South End Press. ISBN 0896084272
  2. ^ a b Jones. Andrew F. [2001] (2001). Yellow Music - CL: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age. Duke University Press. ISBN 0822326949
  3. ^ WastedOrient. "WastedOrient." Wasted Orient: The Official Rock n' Roll Film of Joyside. Retrieved on 2007-04-10.


  • Jones, Andrew F. (1992). Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music. Ithaca, New York: East Asia Program, Cornell University.
  • Wong, Cynthia P. (2005). "Lost Lambs": Rock, Gender, Authenticity, and A Generational Response to Modernity in the People's Republic of China." Ph.D. dissertation. New York, New York: Columbia University, 2005.
  • Brace, Timothy L.(1992). " Modernization and Music in Contemporary China: Crisis, Identity, and the Politics of Style." Ph.D. dissertation. Austin, Texas: University of Texas, 1992.
  • Steen, Andreas. Der Lange Marsch des Rock'n'Roll, Pop- und Rockmusik in der Volksrepublik China. Berlin: LIT Verlag. ISBN 3-8258-2941-3


External links

Radio Stations Playing Chinese Rock



See also

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