The origins of Chinese Rock, part 1 | #classic

The year is 1978. Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping the Chinese Government establishes the "Reform and Opening-up " policy, opening the gates of the Middle Kingdom to the outside world and declaring an end to decades of isolation.

This was not only an opening-up on economic and diplomatic levels, it was also a cultural opening-up. The hunger of the young Chinese, if only a few, for the music from the west, despite the still difficult access to it, is not an isolated phenomena, but its a small part of a wider phenomena, the feverish enthusiasm with which the population a nation so long isolated was receiving and acknowledging its cultural products from the outside world.

The boom of new translations of foreign authors, the access to movies and television programs coming from beyond borders, specially, but not only, Hong-Kong and Taiwan, or the nationwide frenzy for Taiwanese and Hong-Kong Pop music, are some of the phenomena that give testimony to this cultural opening-up. It is in this same context that the exotic and wild sound of rock'n'roll is first heard across the new China. But the Chinese weren't simply passively receiving the cultural products of the outside world, they were hungry for more and passionate in the search for it, learning to live a new life from it, with all its splendor and vices. An example of this tendency is the fact that, during the 80s, the new Chinese translation of a book by Nietzsche was for a long time a bestseller in Beijing bookshops. This meant that in a still highly controlled cultural environment, sometimes-unwanted material would become bestsellers in the clandestine black market.

We should remember here the enormous success of the Taiwanese singer Teresa Tang, which was taken as symbol of this same cultural opening. When during the early 80's period of political tensions between mainland China and Taiwan, the music of artists from Taiwan and Hong-Kong was banned for being too bourgeois, her enormous success led to the circulation of a massive number of illegal copies of her albums, and songs continued to be the favorite themes of the Disco going youth, which led someone to affirm that Deng Xiaoping ruled china by day and Teresa Tang ruled it by night The first access of the Chinese audience to the rock sound was through concerts of foreign cover bands playing at the bars of the hotels prepared to receive foreign visitors or in the first bars and discos allowed to open doors in the country’s big metropolis, specially Shanghai and Beijing.

Steven Shwankert, in an article published in the September 1995 edition of the Wire magazine gave voice to Guo Chuanlin, founding member and manager of Black Panther, seminal Chinese Metal band, as he expresses the feelings of a young Chinese when first getting in contact with rock sound during the period here discussed: "In 1982 a Filipino surf band did a show at a park. It was all covers, Beach Boys and stuff. We stood there stunned. We had no idea a guitar could make those sounds! That was a turning point."

Yet another medium of dissemination of the rock sound were the tapes of rock music brought to china by foreign visitors. These pieces of aural exotica, it is said, were recorded and re-recorded by the new Chinese rock fans, like some rare treasure that needed to be shared. Registered History tell us that the first Chinese band ever playing rock music in China was formed in 1980 by a group of students of the Beijing Second Foreign Language Institute. The band was called Wan Li Ma Wang and played mostly covers from bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bee Gees or Paul Simon, organizing concerts in various universities.

Other bands should be mentioned as pioneers of the Chinese rock. Alisi, or The Alice Band, formed in 1981, and mainly performed a repertoire of Japanese Rock. In 1982 a mixed group of expats and Chinese musicians formed Dalu Yuedui, Mainland Band, playing a mixture of rock, reggae and African music in several hotels around Beijing, such as Club International. Later, two other Beijing bands were formed, Tumbler and Tangram, which also are of historical importance, since several of its members went on to form Chinese rock bands that, after Cuijian acclaimed 1985 performance of Wo Wu Suo You on national television, constituted the first wave of Chinese rock, not anymore as a localized Beijing underground phenomena, but one which begin to receive nationwide recognition.