The origins of Chinese Rock, part 2: Cui Jian

The birthplace of Chinese rock was in Beijing. As the nation's capital, the music was highly politicized 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” performed in 1984 by Cui Jian, widely recognized 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 symbolize the frustration harbored 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, 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 If there is a single person who best signifies China's growing hunger for rock and roll it is Cui Jian. Known to all as Lao Cui, he is recognized as the father of rock music in China and compared to Elvis, Dylan and Springstein by the western media. Cui Jian grew up in a musical family in Beijing. His father was ethnic Korean and his mother was a member of a Korean dance troupe. Cui Jian himself started playing the trumpet at the age of fourteen and joined the Beijing Philharmonic Orchestra in 1981, at the age of twenty. He was first introduced to rock during this period when friends smuggled in illicit recordings from Hong Kong and Bangkok. Inspired by the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and John Denver, Cui began learning to play the guitar. In 1984 he formed Seven Ply Board with six other classically trained musicians, including the saxophonist/ Suona Liu Yuan. The Beatles, the Rolling stones and Talking Heads heavily influenced the seminal band. They performed their own works - mostly soft rock and love songs - in local hotels and bars. 
Cui Jian first shot to stardom was in 1985, when he performed “Nothing to My Name“ on a television talent show. The next year he left his permanent job with the orchestra. His band, now renamed ADO, included two foreign Embassy employees, Hungarian bassist Kassai Balazs and Madagascan guitarist Eddie Randriamampionona. His first real album, “Rock and Roll on the New Long March”, was released in 1986. The album includes the first recording of "Nothing to My Name" and becomes the biggest selling album in China's history. Cui Jian's own long march begins and China will never be the same. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cui created a hybrid and experimental music mix that cut across divisions between pop music genres. 

Cui's songs drew on folk and traditional music types, such as the Northwest Wind (Xibeifeng) or peasant songs of the Loess Plateau of Shaanxi. At times they knowingly parodied old communist party sayings and proverbs. In 1988 he performed at a concert broadcasted worldwide in conjunction with the 1988 Summer Olympics. His earliest and best known works were spiced with Western popular music styles, such as Punk rock, Dance music and Jazz. Cui's vindication of a new internationalism and political awareness connected with many university students of the time. 

In the beginning of the 90’s Cui Jian embarks on his Rock n' Roll on The New Long March tour taking him to arenas throughout the country. Tour profits are to be donated to the upcoming Asian Games in Beijing and huge crowds turn out to see the tour. The tour is cancelled midway, but nevertheless achieves something important in that Cui Jian's appearances inspire the formation of dozens of grass-roots rock bands in China's hinterlands. After his tour he releases his second album, Solution, consisting of songs written prior to 1992. Continuing to experiment with his sound, Cui Jian produces “Solution” with a new band formed from Beijing's growing community of rock musicians, as well as Japanese guitarist Amari Kyosuke. Three years after Cui Jian is invited to Japan and plays at the prestigious Budokan Theater in Tokyo. In the autumn, Cui Jian and the Balls Under the Red Flag band embark on their first tour of the United States, performing at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, The Orpheum Theatre in Boston, as well as The Palladium, The Bottom Line, and The Knitting Factory in New York City. 

The tour receives major press coverage and favorable reviews from the likes of Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, MTV, and CNN. In the year 2000 Cui Jian starts writing music for the soundtrack of Jiang Wen's controversial movie "Devils at the Doorstep" and attends the movie's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Cui Jian also plays the role of a country music teacher in "The Feelings of Heaven and Earth" directed by Yu Zhong. In the same year he performs on television and on a major stage in Beijing for the first time in 7 years. The Dutch ambassador presents Cui Jian with the prestigious Prince Claus Award for artistic endeavors in the developing world. Cui Jian’s latest album titled “Show You Colour” distributed by Jingwen Records, was released nationwide on 28th March 2005.

The new album, divided into three main themes represented by three colors, red, yellow and blue. Red symbolizes the heart (inner feelings), blue symbolizes intelligence and yellow symbolizes love. This album includes various genres of music, such as Pop, Rock, Techno and Hip-hop. He attended the Rolling Stones concert in Shanghai in 2006. When Wild Horses - the classical song of the Rolling Stones- began, the honored guest Cui Jian, with his guitar, sang the song together with the Rolling Stones. After that, Cui Jian said excitedly: “this year is the 20th anniversary of China’s Rock’ n Roll. I’m very grateful that the Rolling Stones came to China. I’ve made an appointment with them. They will come back to China and we will meet in Beijing!” 

Cui Jian keeps on touring to date. The undisputed rocker will continue strumming his guitar and creating great works for audiences and fans in China and worldwide.