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Rock Music


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Rock music is a huge musical genre that includes many subdivisions.

Rock Mythology

Nevertheless, rock music often defines itself in opposition to mainstream pop, which it accuses of being socio-politically irrelevant and overly commercialized. Jeroen de Kloet’s concept of the ‘rock mythology’ is a good tool to make people aware of their naive believe in rock’s power. On page 26 of China with a Cut (2010) he defines the rock mythology as ‘a set of narratives which produce rock as a distinct music world that is, first and foremost, authentic, but also subcultural, masculine, rebellious and (counter) political. ... It is the rock mythology ... supplying the glue that binds producers, musicians, and audiences together; it is the basis of the production of the rock culture.’


Rock in the West is partly recognizable as a band sound, with heavy involvement of several if not all band members in both composition and (live) performance. However, almost all (early) Chinese rock performers were individuals rather than bands: Sam Hui, Luo Dayou, Cui Jian. Record companies signed individuals rather than bands for practical reasons, but there are also cultural reasons relating to highly personal networks (or guanxi). More united bands started emerging in Taiwan and the PRC in the later half of the 1990s, especially after punk, metal and new wave hypes.

Hong Kong

  • After the Beatles performed in Hong Kong in 1964 a number of bands emerged, most of which sang in English. When these bands switched to Cantonese they were dubbed Cantorock.
  • However the lead singers of these bands, such as Sam Hui and Alan Tam, embarked on solo careers and soon dominated what became known as Cantopop. Whereas Hui wrote the songs of his first album and some of the lyrics were touched on socio-political issues, both these featured disappeared on subsequent albums.
  • In the mid 1980s a new scene emerged, with bands such as Tatming Pair (with Anthony Wong), Raidas (with the lyricist Lin Xi) and Beyond. These bands and duos experimented with synthesizers and gave a new impulse to the Hong Kong music industry. Beyond comes closest to the rock mythology, even though most of their songs are love songs.
  • The few rock bands or indie groups that came out of Hong Kong in the 2000s have a electropop sound, and focus more on recordings than on live shows. Anthony Wong’s company People Mountain People Sea promotes alternative pop groups.



  • Luo Dayou ended the folk sound of the Campus Song Movement with a more militant rock sound in 1982. Luo composed his own songs and wrote socially engaged lyrics. He became a huge pop star, and Jay Chou, who also composes his own music (but not his lyrics), is often compared with him.
  • Since the early 1980s, Taiwanese bands and singer-songwriters have been able and willing to find larger audience and have commercial success. This has relaxed the opposition between mainstream pop and underground rock aesthetics. In other words, from the start many Taiwanese bands sound quite poppy and far removed from the subversion proscribed by the rock mythology. This includes recent examples such as Mayday, So Dark Green and Tizzy Bac, none of which discuss politics in their songs.



  • Beijing is the center of rock music in the PRC. The rock mythology resonates well with North Chinese machismo and with the politicization of culture in the capital. In the early years intellectuals embraces rock culture as a form of political subversion, debating the ‘rock spirit’ of Woodstock.
  • This politicization is more ambiguous if we look at the actual practice of musicians. Cui Jian became the PRC’s first and as of yet only rock star in 1986. His song “Nothing to my Name’ became a huge hit and an anthem of the 1989 student protests. Cui also performed on Tian’anmen square during the protests, but has always maintained that the song is a love song and that he only represents himself.
  • This first generation of rock musicians grew up in the privileged military compounds of Beijing. Since the 1970s, these small communities did have access to foreign popular culture, which was distributed as negative examples and evidence of the West’s imminent demise.
  • During the 1990s there were not many rock venues. Bands performed in restaurants, hotels and night clubs. The first record companies emerged, and Taiwanese companies financed albums of the metal band Tang Dynasty and of Dou Wei, Zhang Chu and He Yong. Inspired by Beyond, Beijing-based bands such as Zero Point, Wang Feng and later Xu Wei became pop-rock bands, and despite their commercial success are often excluded from rock history.
  • By the mid-1990s a new generation of Beijing bands emerged around a number of venues in the university area of Wudaokou, such as Scream Club. These bands were mainly inspired by punk (the Ramones) and grunge (Nirvana). Successful bands include Underbaby, Brain Failure, Reflector, Lure (now disbanded) and New Pants. A number of these bands published albums with Modern Sky.
  • During the late 1990s rock bands also emerged in other parts of China. Yan Jun and other music critics promoted DIY and the idea of ‘the underground’, challenging Beijing’s centrality. Still many of these musicians traveled to Beijing, for instance to attend the Midi School of Modern Music. These out-of-towner musicians were inspired by grunge (Nirvana) and rap-metal (Rage Against the Machine). Successful bands include the Fly, No (later Zuoxiao Zuzhou), Cold Blooded Animal (later X.T.X), Tongue (now disbanded), Muma and Miserable Faith. Slightly later bands such as SUBS and PK14 have some of the anger of this generation, but are also influenced by the groovy new wave sound of the next generation.
  • In 2001, the Second Hand Rose’s slogan ‘Big brother, so you play rock but what’s the use?’ suggested that the underground had lost contact with the society it claimed to speak out for. Slowly the anti-mainstream stance of these bands changed, and rock again embarked on the path of co-optation in the mainstream. For instance, X.T.X and Miserable Faith absorbed influences of reggae.
  • The proliferation of music festivals and the diversification of society gave bands more opportunities. Younger bands also grew up in relative comfort and opted for a more danceable and hedonistic sound, influenced by new wave (Joy Division) and electroclash.
  • There are now more bands from outside of Beijing with a nation-wide success, such as Omnipotent Youth Society (Shijiazhuang), Cold Fairyland (Shanghai) and Li Zhi (Nanjing).
  • Throughout these generations there have been bands that have incorporated Chinese instruments, but this trend is less clear in the latest generation.
  • Foreign musicians and promoters have been active in various scenes every step of the way.


For the complete Chapter please download the PDF below