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Rocking Out in China (Part Two) Posted by on Mar 31, 2021 in Culture, History, Music

I hope you’re ready to crank it up and do a little head-banging today, because we’re continuing our series about Rocking Out in China! In case you missed it, go back and read Part One. In it, you’ll learn about the first rock band in China who went by the name Peking All-Stars as well as the “godfather of Chinese rock,” Cui Jian (崔健 cuī jiàn). They created the Chinese rock (中国摇滚 zhōng guó yáo gǔn) scene, so who picked up the torch and ran with it next? Let’s find out!

Image by Okan Caliskan from Pixabay

The Emergence of “Prison Songs”

As I mentioned in Part One, Cui Jian and other early rockers played a style of music that came to be known as the Northwest Wind (西北风 xī běi fēng). It combined Western rock music with the traditional sounds of northern Shaanxi. This kind of Chinese rock was fast and aggressive.

A different style of music soon emerged, this one drawing influences from the traditional sounds of the Northeast region (东北 Dōng běi). These slower, melancholy tunes were known as prison songs (囚歌 qiú gē). It’s not just a clever name, as many of these songs were actually written in prison. Two of the more famous artists were Zhang Jingsheng and Chi Zhiqiang (迟志强 Chí zhì qiáng). I found a pretty fascinating story about this sub-genre of Chinese rock that you can read here.

I was able to track down one of Chi Zhiqiang’s songs so you can have a listen. It’s called “Tears From Behind Bars” (铁窗泪 tiě chuāng lèi) and it definitely sounds like a song written from prison! If you’re interested, I also found a good translation of the lyrics that you can read here.

Both the Northwest Wind and prison song styles of Chinese rock still drew heavily from traditional elements of Chinese music. This included the use of traditional instruments, but that soon started to change.

 

A New Generation of Rockers

One of the most important bands in the history of Chinese rock is definitely Black Panther (黑豹 hēi bào). Formed in 1987, the original frontman was Dou Wei (窦唯 Dòu wéi). They played a much more Western style of rock music. Think leather jackets, long hair, and head banging.

Their self-titled album included a few huge hits – “Ashamed” (无地自容 wú dì zì róng) and “Don’t Break My Heart.” The album really took off and ended up selling over 1.5 million copies, making it one of the most successful rock albums in Chinese history. I managed to track down the music video of “Ashamed,” so turn it up to 11 and rock out!

It’s hard to find a good English translation for most of these songs, but I managed to find the lyrics in Chinese and have added the pinyin if you need it:

人潮人海中 有你有我
相遇相识相互琢磨
人潮人海中 是你是我
装作正派面带笑容

*不必过份多说 自己清楚
你我到底想要作些什么
不必在乎许多 更不必难过
终究有一天你会明白我
人潮人海中 又看到你
一样迷人一样美丽
慢慢的放松 慢慢的抛弃
同样仍是并不在意

不再相信 相信什么道理
人们已是如此冷漠
不再回忆 回忆什么过去
现在不是从前的我
曾感到过寂寞 也曾被人冷落
却从未有感觉 我无地自容

Réncháo rén hǎizhōng yǒu nǐ yǒu wǒ
xiāngyù xiāngshí xiānghù zhuómó
réncháo rén hǎizhōng shì nǐ shì wǒ
zhuāng zuò zhèngpài miàn dài xiàoróng

*bùbìguò fèn duō shuō zìjǐ qīngchǔ
nǐ wǒ dàodǐ xiǎng yào zuò xiē shénme
bùbì zàihū xǔduō gèng bùbì nánguò
zhōngjiù yǒu yītiān nǐ huì míngbái wǒ
réncháo rén hǎizhōng yòu kàn dào nǐ
yīyàng mírén yīyàng měilì
màn man dì fàngsōng màn man de pāoqì
tóngyàng réng shì bìng bù zàiyì

bù zài xiāngxìn xiāngxìn shénme dàolǐ
rénmen yǐ shì rúcǐ lěngmò
bù zài huíyì huíyì shénme guòqù
xiànzài bùshì cóngqián de wǒ
céng gǎndàoguò jìmò yě céng bèi rén lěngluò
què cóng wèi yǒu gǎnjué wǒ wúdìzìróng

 

Despite their great success as a band, Dou Wei left Black Panther to start a new band called Dreaming (做梦 zuò mèng). They wrote many songs together but didn’t last long as a band as Duo Wei decided to pursue a solo career. Many songs the band had written ended up on his debut album called “Black Dream” (黑色梦中 hēi sè mèng zhōng).

This is thought of as the first alternative rock album in China, drawing more influences from bands like The Cure and Bauhaus than traditional Chinese music. You can hear for yourself in the video from the title track:

我的寂寞和我的泪
我的表现是无所谓
若要坚强需要受罪
若要后悔需要忏悔
最好闭上你的嘴
喔 对 这样才算可爱
尽管别人会感到奇怪
这不公道 我不能接受
到处寻找 寻找安慰
对我来说那太珍贵
人海茫茫不会后退
黑色梦中我去安睡
梦中没有错与对
梦中有安也有危
梦醒时刻才会解脱
我不知道我不能去说
我不能 不能 不能

Wǒ de jìmò hé wǒ de lèi
wǒ de biǎoxiàn shì wúsuǒwèi
ruò yào jiānqiáng xūyào shòuzuì
ruò yào hòuhuǐ xūyào chànhuǐ
zuì hǎo bì shàng nǐ de zuǐ
ō duì zhèyàng cái suàn kě’ài
jǐnguǎn biérén huì gǎndào qíguài
zhè bù gōngdào wǒ bùnéng jiēshòu
dàochù xúnzhǎo xúnzhǎo ānwèi
duì wǒ lái shuō nà tài zhēnguì
rén hǎi mángmáng bù huì hòutuì
hēisè mèng zhōng wǒ qù ān shuì
mèng zhōng méiyǒu cuò yǔ duì
mèng zhōng yǒu ān yěyǒu wēi
mèng xǐng shíkè cái huì jiětuō
wǒ bù zhīdào wǒ bùnéng qù shuō
wǒ bùnéng bùnéng bùnéng

 

Another legend in the Chinese rock scene from the late ’80s/early ’90s is Tang Dynasty (唐朝 táng cháo). The emergence of these guys on the scene was when things started to really get rocking, as they’re known as the first heavy metal (重金属 zhòng jīn shǔ) band in China.

They originally had two American members who introduced their local bandmates to prog-rock icons such as Rush and Genesis. Couple that with influences from ancient Chinese martial traditions, and you had a very unique fusion. Often thought of as the pinnacle of Chinese civilization, the band drew lots of inspiration from the actual Tang Dynasty after which they were named.

Their eponymous album came out in 1991 and went on to sell more than 2 million copies. The opening track on the album, “A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty” (梦回唐朝 mèng huí táng cháo) was even nominated for an MTV Asia International Viewer’s Choice Award in 1993. They made several high-budget music videos for this album – something that was very rare for Chinese bands of the time.

This track definitely rocks, so get ready to play some serious air-guitar! Here’s the music video as well as the lyrics so you can follow along:

菊花古剑和酒
被咖啡泡入喧嚣的庭院
异族在日坛膜拜古人的月亮
开元盛世令人神往

风 吹不散长恨
花 染不透乡愁
雪 映不出山河
月 圆不了古梦

沿着掌纹烙着宿命
今宵酒醒无梦
沿着宿命走入迷思
梦里回到唐朝

今宵杯中映着明月
男耕女织丝路繁忙
今宵杯中映着明月
物华天宝人杰地灵
今宵杯中映着明月
纸香墨非词赋满江
今宵杯中映着明月
豪杰英气大千锦亮

今宵杯中映不出明月
霓红闪烁歌舞升平
只因那五音不全的故事
木然唱和没人失落什么

沿着掌纹烙着宿命
今宵梦醒无酒
沿着宿命走入迷思
梦里回到唐朝

亿昔开元全盛日
天下朋友皆胶漆
眼界无穷世界宽
安得广厦千万间

沿着掌纹烙着宿命
今宵梦醒无酒
沿着宿命走入迷思
梦里回到唐朝

今宵杯中映着明月
纸香墨非词赋满江
今宵杯中映着明月
豪杰英气大千锦亮

沿着掌纹烙着宿命
今宵梦醒无酒
沿着宿命走入迷思
仿佛回到梦里唐朝

Júhuā gǔ jiàn hé jiǔ
bèi kāfēi pào rù xuānxiāo de tíngyuàn
yìzú zài rì tán móbài gǔrén de yuèliàng
kāiyuán shèngshì lìng rén shénwǎng

fēng chuī bú sàn zhǎng hèn
huā rǎn bù tòu xiāngchóu
xuě yìng bù chū shānhé
yuè yuán bùliǎo gǔ mèng

yánzhe zhǎng wén làozhe sùmìng
jīnxiāo jiǔ xǐng wú mèng
yánzhe sùmìng zǒu rù mí sī
mèng lǐ huí dào táng cháo

jīnxiāo bēi zhōng yìngzhe míngyuè
nán gēng nǚ zhī sī lù fánmáng
jīnxiāo bēi zhōng yìngzhe míngyuè
wùhuá tiānbǎo rénjiédìlíng
jīnxiāo bēi zhōng yìngzhe míngyuè
zhǐ xiāng mò fēi cífù mǎn jiāng
jīnxiāo bēi zhōng yìngzhe míngyuè
háojié yīngqì dàqiān jǐn liàng

jīnxiāo bēi zhōng yìng bù chū míngyuè
ní hóng shǎnshuò gēwǔ shēngpíng
zhǐ yīn nà wǔ yīn bùquán de gùshì
mùrán chànghè méi rén shīluò shénme

yánzhe zhǎng wén làozhe sùmìng
jīnxiāo mèng xǐng wú jiǔ
yánzhe sùmìng zǒu rù mí sī
mèng lǐ huí dào táng cháo

yì xī kāiyuán quánshèng rì
tiānxià péngyǒu jiē jiāo qī
yǎnjiè wúqióng shìjiè kuān
ān dé guǎng shà qiān wàn jiān

yánzhe zhǎng wén làozhe sùmìng
jīnxiāo mèng xǐng wú jiǔ
yánzhe sùmìng zǒu rù mí sī
mèng lǐ huí dào táng cháo

jīnxiāo bēi zhōng yìngzhe míngyuè
zhǐ xiāng mò fēi cífù mǎn jiāng
jīnxiāo bēi zhōng yìngzhe míngyuè
háojié yīngqì dàqiān jǐn liàng

yánzhe zhǎng wén làozhe sùmìng
jīnxiāo mèng xǐng wú jiǔ
yánzhe sùmìng zǒu rù mí sī
fǎngfú huí dào mèng lǐ táng cháo

 

For a good English translation of “A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty,” click here.

 

Thanks to bands like Black Panther and Tang Dynasty, rock music became a staple in modern Chinese culture in the 1990s. I hope you enjoyed this second post about Rocking Out in China. It turns out there’s lots to cover, so I hope to add a few more posts in this series in the future!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


Comments:

  1. rob:

    hey guys please check out the website of former Diamond Head guitarist!! Diamond head were massive influences on Metallica and Megadeth!!! rockstarguitarschool.co.uk


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