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History of Popular Music in Communist Countries: USSR and China
Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
Ryu, Hye Jin
Term Paper, AP European History Class, March 2009
Table of Contents
II. Popular Music of the Soviet Union
II.1 Prior to 1960s
II.5 Early 1990s
II.6 Conclusion - Soviet Popular Music
III. Popular Music of China
III.1 Introduction / Terminology
III.2 Prior to 1970s
III.6 2000s and onwards
III.7 Conclusion - Chinese Popular Music
IV. Common Trends
Popular music can be defined in multiple ways. According to the Babylon Dictionary, popular music is "music of general appeal to teenagers;
a bland watered-down version of rock'n'roll with more rhythm and harmony and an emphasis on romantic love." (1)
However such definition is more like a description of popular music or its general characteristics than a definition to set its bounds. Therefore,
in this paper, I will combine the definition given by WordNet Online Dictionary form Princeton University which is: "any genre of music having
wide appeal but usually only for a short time" (2) and the first definition to define popular music as: "a genre of
music that was popular in a specific period of time that is influenced from Western culture and is different from the traditional music of a nation".
With this definition, this research paper will focus on the Soviet Union and China.
II. Popular Music of Soviet Union
II.1 Prior to 1960s
Popular music, in terms of music influenced by Western style music, before the 1960s start with jazz which was introduced in the 1920s.
Before the advent of jazz, classical music was predominant. Classical music at the beginning of the Russian Revolution followed an
eccentric pattern as more and more experiments were undertaken (3). However, such experiments in the revolutionary
era moved towards classicism as Joseph Stalin's administration favored classical music of the previous Russian Empire (4).
However, jazz music introduced in the 1920s was not successful as the audience did not accept its musical style and thus declined in the 1940s.
During the 1920s, Jazz music was first introduced to Soviet Union by Valentin Parnakh (5). Jazz music during the
early stages in the Soviet Union gained popularity through movie sound tracts. Leonid Uteosov, a jazz singer, and Isaak Dunayevsky established
themselves as initial leaders of jazz music in the Soviet union by the comedy movie, Jolly Fellows (6). Eddie Rosner
and Oleg Lundstrem also contributed to soviet jazz music (7). However, this popularity of jazz did not lost long due to
the anti-cosmopolitanism campaigns during the late 1940s. Jazz music was labeled as "bourgeois" and many jazz bands were dissolved.
During the early 1960s, Soviet music was divided into to groups: the professional artists and the amateur artists. Professional artists were basically
under the control of state owned music firms including Melodiya while the amateur musicians were independent from the state control at its beginning
The professional musicians could release records through the state-owned recording firm and such bands were called the Vocal-Instrumental Ensemble
(Vocalno-Instrumentalny Ansambl or VIA). They were granted the status of "professional musician" but had to be under control of the state and the
Melodiya. Melodiya was the state-owned record label of the Soviet Union (8). The "All-Union Gramophone Record Firm
of the USSR Ministry of Culture Melodiya," established in 1964, employed a centralized distribution system which could be implemented with the
use of its massive resources, myriad recording studios and manufacturing facilities (9). The firm dominated classical music
market of the Soviet Union and released successful western pop, jazz and rock music including ABBA, Paul McCartney, Bon Jovi and Boney M
(10). Melodiya was extremely powerful and dominated the music industry of the Soviet Union for 70 years and has released
more than 200 million records per year, exporting to more than 70 countries around the world (11).
The VIA, state-produced professional bands, performed songs that were written by the composers of the Composers' Union of the USSR including
Alexandra Pakhmutova, Yan Frenkel and Raimonds Pauls (12). Bands and musicians such as Pesneri, Zemliane, Poyushie
Gitari, Yuri Antonov, Stas Namin, Tsvety performed music that combined elements from rock and traditional music, electro clash and disco music
(13). They were created by state agencies starting from 1968 to counter balance the growing amateur bands and satisfy
the demand for modern electric guitar music. In addition to restrictions on music, they could not perform freely as their stage appearances were
monitored and regulated by Party officials of artistic committees. Still, the VIAs adopted beat and musical style from the West to, some degree,
represent the spontaneous style of Western pop music (14). Pojuschie Gitary, who was part of the VIA movement, went further
and released the first rock opera, Orpheus and Eurydice, and gradually introduced the new genre to the Russian public (15).
Ninety five percent of these groups travelled in rural provinces and were well received by the culturally deprived population who were away from
urban areas of Russia (16). Due to the fact that these population of north-east Russia and Siberia had no chance to see
or enjoy other forms of musical entertainment, the state-created bands became extremely popular.
While the professional musicians were under heavy influence of the state concert and recording firms, amateur pop bands started to grow in the
Soviet Union independent from such restrictions. Amateur pop bands began to rise in the 1960s and were created and supported by the youth.
Two major developments happened during this time: one was the bard movement and the other was the emergence of western style pop.
While official VIA was predominant during the 1960s and 70s, bard music became quite popular and was considered as an alternative to VIAs.
Bard music was the result of a singer-songwriter movement which was originated from the folklore songs played by amateur students, tourists
and travelling geologists. Bard genre was characterized by simple repeated rhythms and was usually performed by a single acoustic guitar
(17). Bulat Okudzhava, Vladimir Vysotsky, Yuri Vizbor, Sergey and Tatyana Nikitins were some of the famous musicians
of this genre (18).
Unlike the bards, amateur pop groups imitated Western pop groups. Most of the groups were imitations of British pop groups as both rock and
rhythm and blues did not appeal to them. Therefore, groups like The Animals, The Shadows, The Swinging Blue Jeans and The Beatles became
the model which Soviet groups took the musical styles and techniques. The pop music movement was centered in cities such as Moscow,
Leningrad, Riga, Tallin and Lvov due to their contacts with the Western culture (19). However, the pop movement was
not immediately welcomed and amateur groups had to face opposition to establish the new cultural phenomenon. With the failure of the communist
system and the Party to provide happiness and self-fulfillment caused great disappointment among the generation and thus rock music with heavy
electric guitars started to gain popularity among the youth (20). The main theme of early pop artists of the Soviet Union
were romance, ideal love and dreams which shows drastic changes in the next few decades.
While rock music was not well received by the public in the 1960s, the trend changed significantly in the 1970s. The age of VIAs ended and rock
music started to grow rapidly with the help of numerous amateur artists.
The popularity of the VIA ended in the late 1970s due to the rise of progression rock groups who emerged from previously amateur groups. They
were different from the VIAS as they composed and performed according to their own values without state interferences. They wrote their own
lyrics to represent the characteristics of their own generations and such fresh attempts attracted the youth. Some groups became famous to even
be known in nations west of the Soviet Union in Europe.
While the musical groups of the 1960s composed music and lyrics about love, the theme of music started to change in the 1970s where young
people no longer imitated blindly the music of Western artists. They started to deal with the real problems of their country in their lyrics including
themes such as: corrupt morals, ideological compulsion, intellectual prostitution and lack of freedom and intolerance of uniqueness and personality
(21). For example, the lyrics of one of the songs of the famous group Time Machine in the 1970s was about a hero
who fought to pursue his goals against the monolithic society that promoted conformity (22). The lyric goes:
It¡¯s so hard to endure,
To protect all your flowers,
Through the cold and the black,
And to raise on dreams of your powers
Your own personal flag
(Time Machine: ¡®Tower¡¯)
So never mind how many days had passed me,
With snow all round my blood to ice had turned
A hundred times I¡¯d start again all over -
So long as light was there and while the candle burnt.
(Time Machine: ¡®Candle¡¯) (23)
The rock groups of the 1970s composed music of various rock genre including blues rock, heavy metal, progressive rock and rock 'n' roll.
Few popular groups emerged including the Time Machine, Autograph and Leapyear Summer, all from Moscow, and the first two groups
turned professional in 1979 (24). Other rock groups remained underground, mostly from Leningrad, including:
Sunday, Russians, Myths and Aquarium. Time Machine and Aquarium played folk rock and rock ¡®n¡¯ roll while Autograph and Leapyear
Summer played progressive rock (25). Sunday played blues rock and Russians played heavy metal.
Unlike the limited activities of early pop musicians, artists in the 70s wielded increasingly great amounts of influence in the society. Soviet pop
during the late 1970s remained its youth spirit and still succeeded to affect other groups in society including the educated elites of the media,
publishing and research centers who agreed to the problems the Soviet societies had by discouraging personality in the country. However,
these musical groups were not officially or formally approved as they were considered too rough and obscene. With the changes in the theme
of lyrics and pop music of the 1970s, two trends were produced: production with everyday language and production with use of artistic or
poetic language. Musicians like Time Machine followed the first trend while other artists such as Aquarium in Leningrad and Autograph in
Moscow followed the second trend (26). The groups of the second trend composed music with lyrics that were
meditative, emotional and expressionistic (27). They expressed the existential feelings of an individual living in the
backwards society of the Soviet Union. Buddhist ideologies such as Karma and reincarnation were also employed in lyrics by Aquarium
(28). These bands, despite their underground activities, remained greatly popular among the intellectual elite in the
The 1980s saw the greatest change in popular music culture with numerous rock bands gaining incredible amount of popularity, new genres
being introduced and radical ideologies becoming more openly expressed through music.
In the mid 1980s the pop movements went a step further to criticize the authorities and new genres of Punk and New Wave appeared.
Their lyrics became more severe and started to incorporate swear words which shocked the general Soviet public. Their physical appearance
also greatly surprised the public and rock journalists such as Artyom Troitsky also disapproved of the extremes of Western pop culture. Bands
of Panov even dressed in a mixture of Western and Soviet military style clothing, mocking the Soviet army. Therefore, numerous Soviet punk
artists hid themselves underground and held concerts secretly in Moscow and Leningrad. Their bold anti-Soviet music encouraged such
sentiment among the some youth. However, it was not the punk artists who had the greatest impact on the public during the 1980s: it was the
New Wave groups. The New Wave groups scorned at the use of foul language and dressing in wild clothing, but their lyrics and music were
well composed, enjoyable and acutely pointing out the irony and the problems of the society, to become a threat to the Party ideology
(29) . New Wave sounds were a mixture of Western style music and traditional Russian folk music. The atmosphere
of the music was usually cheerful and childish while the lyrics were witty, ironic and almost cynical, depicting the everyday life of the youth
and at the same time criticizing the monolithic and repeating life of the Soviets. Famous groups included Zoo, Strange Games, Cinema, Primus,
Centre, Dynamic and Bravo with the first three active in Leningrad and the latter groups active in Moscow (30). In
less than a year, New Wave and Punk spread even to the far east of Russia and later groups were also found in isolated places such as Siberia
and parts of Central Asia. With this rise of rock genre, in 1980, Spring Rhythms Rock Festival was held in Tbilisi, Georgian SSR which
showed the significant growth of amateur bands in the Russian SSR (31). Moreover, while before the 1980s, pop music was played in places
such as trade union clubs, municipal clubs, cafes and conference halls, with its increasing popularity, it started to appear on tapes filmed by fans
which were copied and distributed unofficially. Therefore the speed of new records spreading increased significantly and so did the spreading
of the anti-communist sentiments expressed in such music. This unofficial spread pirated records decreased when some prominent groups turned
professional and asked the state owned recording company Melodiya to produce their records (32). Despite their
request, only four new singles were released due to the rock groups' "extreme" musical styles that did not go well with the government
promoted style of music. Therefore, Time Machine recorded its own private record in tape form and this movement spread to other groups.
However, this prosperous blooming of rock music had to face a great obstacle when from 1983, strict measures to limit the freedom of rock
artists started. This severe action of the government had two major underlying reasons: the decline of profit of state owned musical enterprises
and the spread of anti-communist ideology through pop music.
Due to their private production of records, the profit of the state-owned firm decreased. Despite the fact that the recording industry of the entire
country was controlled by the monopoly of the state, Time Machine, the first band to attempt to create a recording by their own, produced
excellent quality work and thus myriad fans purchased their work and the works of other rock artists that followed after the Time Machine¡¯s
success. The authorities knew that these groups, when absorbed into the state machine, could become leading fundraisers for the state and thus
the Ministry of Culture absorbed the bands by offering them status as professional bands, solid income and official advertising
(33). However, despite the effort, the income of state-owned musical firms continued to decrease and the Ministry of
Culture had to enforce stricter regulations.
In addition, as stated previously, the new Punk and New Wave groups were radically different from the early pop groups: the themes of their
music changed greatly to openly criticize the state. However, the greatest problem was not their lyrics: it was their growing popularity and influence
on the public. The komsomolskaya Pravada, Young Communist Newspaper, had articles published about famous bands and their media influence
became significant (34). Moreover, in two years from 1982 to 1984, the number of performances has risen from 664,000
to 776,000 and tickets for pop concerts has been harder and harder to obtain as most concerts, even those of unknown amateur bands, were sell-outs
(35). Therefore, the government had to devise measures to stop the wildly growing anti-communist sentiment in the
On July 1983, the Ministry of Culture launched a campaigned immediately after the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party
to go against popular music (36). President Andropov disapproved of the Soviet popular music and said: "It is
intolerable to see the occasional emergence on a wave of popularity of musical bands with repertoires of a dubious nature. Their activity is
ideologically and aesthetically harmful." (37) With this criticism, the Russian Republic's Ministry of Culture issued new
instructions for pop groups working under state-run concert agencies which included a demand for a review of the official groups' repertoires.
However, this was not the end of the implementation of new oppressive policies: the Ministry of Culture, in the following year, issued further
instructions such as the tightening up the controls on professional groups and monitoring the repertoire and status of amateur groups
(38). The Soviet Ministry of Culture of Culture also prohibited Western records from entering the country and professional
groups were given a 'rehearsal period' to alter all rebellious styles in their music before losing their professional status (39).
Also, minimum of eighty percent of all their performance music had to be composed by the Union of Soviet Composers and thus their freedom
to compose original pieces of music were greatly limited (40). Lyrics had to get approval from the Central Literary
Department which made it almost impossible for original compositions to be performed. Amateur groups were also banned from performing if
not registered in the Municipal Department of Culture. Due to these strict measures, by the fall of 1984, there was not a single amateur
performance for six months (41). Moscow did not hold a single pop festival and top groups such as Time Machine
could not perform.
However, from 1985, changes again happened due the change of economic and social conditions with the implementation of perestroika. Perestroika
was the Russian term for economic reforms that were implemented during the Gorbachev regime. Numerous Russian bands were allowed to travel
to Europe and USA and record there as the new economic policy sharply decreased the state monopoly of economic sectors of society. Western
rock became more available the public when the Moscow Music Peace Festival with western rock stars was held. Moreover, Gorbachev accepted
Scorpions, a rock group, in the Kremlin and an album called "Radio Silence" was released in the western world. Furthermore, in 1986, the first
official Russian rock was released in the United States by four bands from Leningrad including Aquarium, Kino, Alisa and Strannye Igry
(42). In addition to the impact of influence of western market in the Soviet Union, the rise of television and film in the 1980s
also contributed to the breakthrough of Russian rock. Muzykalny Ring and Programma A, the new television shows, broadcasted live shows and
interviews of musicians and made available to the public (43).
II.5 Early 1990s
In the mid 90s, Russian rock became less popular due to changes in the economy, mentality and mass media in the declining Soviet Union. The 1990s
are commonly referred to as the end of classic Russian rock era where two main events: the death of Viktor Tsoi and the collapse of the Soviet Union
signaled the end of the peak of the genre.
Still, Russian rock remained to keep its fans and continued to perform. Nasche Radio, the radio station of the Soviet Union was also created to
broadcast music of rock artists and it influenced the public taste of music. Moreover, Nasche Radio staged the Nashestvie rock festival in 1999 which
became an annual rock festival (44). After the perestroika, the monopoly of the state recording company ended and the
new recording company, Moroz, released "Legends of Russian Rock," which became highly popular among rock fans (45).
A new genre emerged which was alternative rock. This new genre of rock became famous with bands such as Splean, Nochniye Snaiperi,
Smisloviya Galutzinatzii and Bi-2 (46). Some bands such as Dolphin and Korol I Shut experimented with the new genre
by mixing previously existing genres with alternative rock including punk rock and rap core (47). In addition, ska punk
also became popular by bands in Leningrad.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, British pop again became popular among the younger public and a new style called ¡°rockapop¡± emerged.
Pop music industry grew rapidly due to decreased regulations implemented in the 1980s and the end of monopoly of the state-owned concert
and recording firms.
II.6 Conclusion ? Russian Popular Music
Music in the Soviet Union went through rapid changes in its style, audience and genre. The Soviet Union was previously dominated by classical
music before the 1950s. However, starting from the 1920s, changes in music culture happened when jazz entered the country. Although this
new type of music aroused interest among the public, it failed to generate a great number of audience. After a long transition period, in the 1960s,
pop music influenced by the west finally started to rise. Pop music trend in the Soviet started with British mild pop and then transformed into rock
in the 1970s, which became extremely popular among the youth and wielding great social and political influence on the public through their music,
performances and the media. During the 1980s, thus the government enacted policies to end the threat of rising popularity of anti-communist
ideologies expressed in punk and New Wave groups which temporarily caused the decline of rock. However, at the end of the 1980s and the
beginning of 1990s, the new economic policy and the fall of the Soviet Union revived Russian rock and more Western music flooded the nation
and greatly influenced the musical taste of Russian population.
III. Chinese Popular Music
III.1 Introduction / Terminology
Chinese popular music was considered by many professional music scholars and the government as an obstacle to the development of Chinese
culture and music (48). They believed popular music represented an inferior form of culture tainted by Western capitalist
values (49). However, while criticizing the spread of such form of music, the Chinese government failed to implement
a constant policy about music and has ignored education of music in schools. Through this lack of proper fostering of knowledge regarding
Chinese traditional music caused the public to not fully be aware of its own folk songs and opera and ironically caused the wider spread of
popular music. In fact, according to a survey taken in 1988, among 900 people, 738 people chose popular music as one of their three favorite
kinds of music while Chinese folk songs were only mentioned 347 times (50).
Chinese Popular music has developed from "shidaiqu," which means "music of the era" (51). The shidaiqu movement
started first in Shanghai in the 1920s and reached its peak in 1940s. However, it declined rapidly after the Communist party prohibited pop
music production. Shidaiqu then moved to Hong Kong and developed during the 1950s and the 1960s (52). In the
late 1960s, it was replaced by more modern Chinese pop music which can be divided into two sub categories: Cantopop and Mandopop.
Cantopop refers to songs in Cantonese which are predominant in Hong Kong and Mandopop refers to songs in Mandarin which are produced
in the mainland, usually Beijing and Shanghai. Songs in mainland China including Beijing and Shanghai use simplified Chinese for lyrics while
other areas such as Hong Kong and Taiwan use traditional Chinese characters. Recently, new hubs are emerging as the centers for popular
music including Singapore and Malaysia for Mandopop and Guangdong, Malaysia and Vancouver for Cantopop (53).
While Cantopop and Mandopop are terms used mainly in areas outside Chinese mainland like Hong Kong and Taiwan, Chinese terms are used
in mainland China to refer to popular music in China. The three terms used to describe popular music are: liuxing yinyue, tongsu yinyue and
Qing yinyue (54). The terms liuxing and tongsu yinyue are used to refer to popular music as defined in this paper
while Qing yinyue includes Chinese folk music played with Western rhythm and instruments. Liuxing yinyue was used in the 1930s to 1940s
while Qing yinyue was used in the 1950s and 1960s. Tongsu yinyue was used later in the 1980s to differentiate the new style of music that
appeared during that time from the previous popular music in China (55). Although somewhat different, all three terms
referred to music that was greatly influenced by Western music and were associated with modernization and change. Finally, while the previous
terms are categorized according to region and period, there are terms used to divide Chinese popular music by styles. There are three
representative styles in Chinese music which are Gangtaiyue, Xibeifeng and Yaogunyue. Gangtaiyue was the dominant style on mainland
China from 1970s to mid 1980s when Xibeifeng rose to popularity. Gangtaiyue is the equivalent of Cantopop: Cantopop in mandarin Chinese
is Gangtaiyue. Xibeifeng is a subgenre of Mandopop while Yaogunyue is Chinese word for Rock and Roll. In this paper, although Cantopop
and Gangtaiyue are basically the same type of music and thus can be used interchangeably, Gangtaiyue will be used to refer to Cantonese and
Taiwanese originated or influenced songs that were popular in mainland China before the 1990s while Cantopop will be used to refer to
Cantonese music played in Hong Kong and other Cantonese speaking areas until today.
III.2 Prior to 1970s
Between 1920 and 1949, popular music of China was referred to as Shidaiqu which was founded by Li Jinhui in Shanghai (56).
Shidaiqu was influenced by American Jazz music brought by Buck Clayton, an American jazz trumpet player influenced by Louis Armstrong, as Li Jinhui
worked closely with Buck Clayton in Shanghai (57). The new music genre spread primarily in nightclubs and dancehalls
during the 1920s and started to become popular through the media such as radio between 1920s and 1950s.
During this time period, few influential artists became popular in China. The Seven Great Singing Stars (qi da ge xing) were the seven most famous
singers of China during the early 1930s. The stars included Bai Guang, Bai Hong, Gong Quixia, Li Xinaglan, Wu Yingwin, Yao Lee and Zhou Xuan
(58). These singers dominated the music and film industry during the 1930s and 40s until the censoring of the Communist
Party of Mandopop.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Chinese pop (c-pop) was considered as a leftist production and when the Communist Party of China established the
People's Republic of China in 1949, it labeled c-pop as "Yellow Music," which referred to inappropriate pornographic production
(59). Due to this persecution, Shanghai musicians brought the industry to Hong Kong to develop Cantopop.
Until the early 1960s, Cantopop was still limited to traditional Cantonese opera and renditions of western music as people who listened to Cantonese
music were considered unsophisticated as opposed to those who listened to British and American Western popular music produced by artists like the
Beatles (60). However, musicians like Cheung Kum-cheung and Chan Chai-chung tried to boost Cantopop and became
Hong Kong's first few teen idols along with Connie Chan Po-chu, famous Cantonese Opera singer and film star born in Guangdong, China
In the 1970s, due to the rise of television media, popular music became more widely available as TV soap opera sound tracks. Sandra Lang in
1971 was the first singer to sing a Cantonese TV theme song, "Tai Siu Jan Jyuan" and her song became extremely popular, ranking high on
local charts. Other musicians such as Roman Tam, Four Golden Flowers, Jenny Tseng, Liza Wang and Adam Cheng gained fame through
singing Television soundtracks (62).
During this period, the predominant genre of C-pop was Gangtaiyue which first spread in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Gang is the abbreviation of
Hong Kong (Xianggang) and Tai is the abbreviation of Taiwan. It had smooth flowing melodies that was neither fully Chinese nor fully Western;
light disco dance rhythm with high pitched vocal of Chinese folksong style 63). The lyrics were usually about love
between young men and young women and were written professionally. This music style was "bangongkai" or "half openly" spread as the
government did not officially devise policies to ban the dissemination of this new style of music (64). It was spread
by borrowing and copying of cassettes and was not by state radio or television stations. While on one hand, this new music genre was seen as
a breakaway from the strict government oppression of culture, it was also seen as a western bourgeois influence that corrupted the Chinese.
Still, due to Deng Xiaoping's open economic policies, Chinese music industry grew (65). Gangtaiyue's greatest
impact was that it became the standard by which popular music in China was defined. It became successful because it was international as it
was from Hong Kong and Taiwan but was also Chinese: it succeeded in meeting the two demands of Chinese modernization which was being
modern yet keeping the Chinese identity.
1980s was the beginning of the golden age for Cantopop which well established system of artists, produces and record companies working
together. Due to the new economic and foreign policies implemented in the nation, popular music became more widely accepted and this
growing youth culture was symbolized by the growth of popular music in China and the encroachment of Western culture
However, due to its rapid rise in the late 1980s, the government tried to restrict its expansion through means such as circumscribing the frequency
and location of performances and professionalizing popular music performance and composition like the Soviets in the 1980s. By urging the
gradual professionalization of popular music, the government sought to oust the Gangtai music and it resulted in a success (67).
During the late 1980s, from 1986 to 1989, Xibeifeng (Northwest Wind) style music rose as a result of the decline of Gangtai music
(68). This new style of music was widely disseminated and was supported further by people who believed it was
a part of the cultural movement called Xungen (seeking roots) that tried to reevaluate traditional Chinese culture and maintain Chinese identity
against the flood of foreign cultural influence (69). This movement contributed to the altering of the previous negative
view of popular music. Xibeifeng based on the folk song style of Northwest region of China including Gansu and Shaanxi. Two songs,
"Xintianyou" and "Nothing to My Name" were the very first to incorporate the new style of music. The melodic construction, instrumentation,
lyrics and vocal production were different for the Xibeifeng style from the Gangtaiyue. Xibeifeng used leaps of intervals which was different
from the smooth step melodies of Gangtaiyue (70). It used a western style fast tempo and strong beat with powerful
bass. It was played and sung with force and loud vocal unlike the soft and mellow Gangtaiyue. Moreover, Xibeifeng included Chinese traditional
instruments which gave the style Chinese identity. Moreover, while Gangtaiyue emphasizes love and relationship between boys and girls,
Xibeifeng lyrics emphasized feelings of love and homesickness as well as pride in northwestern peasants. The lyrics of a Gangtaiyue song Shifou goes:
This time will I really leave you ?
This time will I not again burst into tears ?
This time will I turn my head as soon as I go,
Traveling down that never ending road ?
This time will I really leave you ?
Have the tears dried up and can no longer flow ?
If the words I have spoken are all true,
My feelings sink into the lonely depths;
How many times will this struggle take place in my heart ?
I only want to retrace my steps.
How many times must I hold the tears back,
and try to tell myself that I don't really care ? (71)
In contrast, the lyric of the Xibeifeng lyric "My Beloved Hometown" goes:
My hometown isn't at all pretty,
Low thatched cottages and bitter water,
A small stream that often runs dry,
Reluctant to leave the little village.
On a stretch of exhausted earth,
Harvesting our meager hopes,
Planting year after year,
Generation after generation.
Hometown, oh my hometown,
Whose earth I can't kiss enough,
Whose well water I can't love enough,
I have to use dedication and sweat
to turn you into fertile earth and good water,
fertile earth and good water. (72)
Xibeifeng became successful as it combined the American disco music with melodies and lyrics of China. In addition Xibeifeng emphasized
local identity in music: the southern traditional music was gentle while northern music, influenced by opera styles, was rough and coarse.
However, Gangtaiyue regained its dominance by 1989 as Xibeifeng's increasing popularity caused the government to become threatened
and criticize it. The government believed its lyrics that express longing towards the rural areas was not promoting the unity of the entire
nation that the government was working so hard to strengthen (73). In addition, while the first generation of artists
were devoted and the original creators of Xibeifeng, the later ones to enter the market did so in order to gain profit in the prosperous
business and this lack of creative motivation and devotion only created imitations of the music and no further development could be made,
causing its further demise.
After the decline of Xibeifeng, another style of music emerged which was Yaogunyue or Rock and Roll. Chinese rock was born in Beijing
and was highly influenced by foreign musical styles. This form of music was more directly opposed to the dominant form of Gangtaiyue.
In the beginning of Yaogunyue, it remained underground as government restrictions forced them to travel and move the location of
performances (74). Their songs were not available in music stores and could only be obtained by private recordings.
Most audiences comprised of intellectuals and young male workers and they viewed the music as political criticism as its lyrics criticized the
current government and the life in modern China (75). An example of the lyrics of rock music in the late 1980s goes:
"Cong tou zai lai" (Start Over Again)
My feet touch the earth, my head touches the sky,
I pretend that I am the only one in the world.
I press myself tightly against the wall,
I pretend that on these shoulders there is no head.
Oh, oh, oh, ..............
I'm not willing to leave, I'm not willing to be,
I'm not willing to live too honestly .
I would like to leave, I would like to be,
I want, after I die, to start all over again.
The clouds from the cigarettes, the ocean of wine,
Pour into my empty heart.
I get better and better at talking nonsense,
I get better and better at remaining silent.
I get better and better at pretending that
I know nothing.
Oh, oh, oh, ..............
It's difficult to leave, it's difficult to be,
It's difficult to live too honestly .
I would like to leave, I would like to be,
I want, after I die, to start all over again.
Looking all around, looking at everyone,
Looking at myself at the start of the golden road, 83
I'm not aware of fear, I'm not aware of shame,
I'm also not aware of whether I want to know.
Oh, oh, oh, ..............84
( The "golden road" is an allusion to socialism.) (76)
"Nothing To My Name," the song performed by Cui Jian, is considered as a song that was in the transitional stage from Xibeifeng
to Yaogunyue. Cui Jian is thus recognized as the father of Chinese rock. This song symbolized the disillusionment of young
intellectuals who became skeptical and even cynical about the ideals of the Communist Party. In the Tiananmen Square protest
in 1989, this song was used as the anthem of students as it depicted well their sentiments about their nation at the time. Popularity
of rock groups increased significantly during this period and in summer of 1989, three most famous rock bands were created: Huxi
(Breathing), Cobra, and Zang Tianshuo (77).
While new genres of music continued to rise during the 1980s, the youth of the nation were divided into groups that had different
experiences: the older group who were educated during the Cultural Revolution, the ones in their twenties who were educated under
the Open Door Policy (78). The tension between the reformers and the cultural conservatives became
extremely intense and numerous repression of student movements happened in 1987 and 1989. While in the early 1987, many youth
spoke in favor of the party, in 1989, after the Tiananmen Square Incident, the government was no longer supported by the youth
of the nation. An interview of a university graduate reveals the general sentiment of Chinese students during the time. He says:
"We all hate the government. The government is corrupt. They are all liars. Socialism cannot work. The moment the first bullet
hit the first student in Tiananmen Square was the moment the government died. Now we are only waiting for the body to finish rotting,
so we can throw it away." (79)
Music for these generations in this time period represented a link to the outside world and the means to express their discontent of the
government. Cultural repression by the government increased the popularity of rock music with its boldness and vicariousness. While
the criticisms of students in China were concentrated on improving the transparency of government and were not calling for the Western
type of government or democracy, after the Tiananmen Massacre, the students became westernized, enraged by the irresponsibility of the regime.
The Tiananmen Square protests ignited the passion for rock for the youth during the 1990s. In 1990 February 18, the largest rock
concert was held in the Capital Gymnasium where famous rock artists such as Cui Jian and Tang Dynasty performed (80).
In the next three years, popularity of rock music reached its zenith and numerous bands performed regularly. However, they were prohibited
from performing in state-controlled media including the CCTV and thus could only appear in informal rock parties. With their "disturbing"
hairstyles and costumes such as long hair, torn up jeans, gothic style silver metal ornaments and black leather jackets, the rock artists represented
the non conformist attitude and were welcomed by the youth who wanted a change from the uniform and state-controlled culture
However, the age of rock did not last long as in 1994, it started to face gradual decline to the severe censorship of the Chinese Communist Party
and the change of Chinese economic system. The performance restrictions of the Communist Party prevented rock music from being widely
available to the public. Moreover, the Chinese economy became increasingly like a market economy which altered the chief interest of the public
from politics to economics: making money and increasing the standard of life. Due to this economic changes, music industry became increasingly
commercialized and thus Cantopop and other non-rock music that had a wider public appeal became well backed by record companies and
could raise money to put on advertisements to become popular while rock music quickly became isolated from mainstream public culture. This
downfall of rock music caused some artists such as Tian Zhen and Xu Wei to adopt Cantopop style and achieve commercial success but some
artists like He Yong opposed severely to this change in style and kept developing punk and ska rock style (82).
III.6 2000s and onwards
The year 2000s saw the rapid improvement in promotion and advertisement of popular music with the advent of an internet age and developing
movie industry. Moreover, the barrier between Cantopop and Mandopop became thinner as many Cantopop stars crossed over to the rising
Mandopop industry. In addition, rock music became revived during this period.
The rise of internet in Hong Kong and mainland China offered a greater chance for a larger public to enjoy popular music through downloads and
previews. In the year 2000, the popular music industry in Hong Kong faced a great change as the first online C-pop music portal was launched:
EolAsia.com (83). Surviving the dot.com burst, which was the bubble burst of stocks of companies based on the
internet, EolAsia.com started to offer legal music downloads starting from 2005 with the cooperation of EMI, Warner Music and Sony BMG.
(84). This portal-website was the first move towards a digitalized pop industry. On the other hand, Baidu.com, the
search engine of mainland China, was sued for providing illegal downloads of music (85). This website was a partial
evidence for the growing piracy of China which is still rampant around the entire country. Since this event in 2008, Top100.cn was launched and
started offering free low quality music and purchasable high quality downloads (86).
In Taiwan, the growing mainland film industry called for further development of popular music as the need for sound tracks increased and the
means of promotion was established through the increased production of movies and TV series. Jay Chou made rhythm and blues as well as
rap music popular in mainland China and boy bands and girl bands from Taiwan such as S.H.E and Fahrenheit became commercially successful
Recently boy bands and girl bands are gaining greater influence not only in Taiwan but in mainland China. Six boy bands emerged by 2008 in
mainland China and became idols of the youth. With their attractive appearances, singing and dancing abilities, boy bands became featured in idol
TV series targeting young girls. This trend for idol groups is remarkably similar to the ones that happened in the early 1990s in Japan and Korea
and thus some popular music critics view this phenomenon as a step towards further development of Cantopop and Mandopop.
Moreover, Cantopop and Mandopop became similar with the improved means of communication between the two regions and their similar
development of musical styles including Rhythm and Blues, Ballads, light rock and hip hop.
While Cantopop saw an increased publicizing and advertising in China, rock music became revived. Post punk and extreme rock appeared in the
underground scene from 2000 including Visual key and Gothic Lolita groups. Moreover, with the establishment of the Beijing Midi School of
Music in 1993 and the launching of Midi Modern Music Festival, rock music became more openly performed in China (88).
The Midi Modern Music Festival became the largest music festival in China, attracting 80000 visitors 100 bands (89).
In 2006, 18 foreign rock bands were invited by the Midi School of Music to perform at the festival (90).
III.7 Conclusion - Chinese Popular Music
Chinese popular music can be divided into two categories by region: Cantopop and Mandopop. Cantopop is the music produced in Cantonese
speaking areas including Hong Kong and Mandopop is the music produced in mandarin speaking areas including mainland China and Taiwan.
Chinese popular music can also be categorized according to style: Gangtaiyue (Cantopop or Cantopop influenced soft music), Xibeifeng (style
originated from Northwest region of mainland China) and Yaogunyue (rock and roll).
Although Chinese music first started in the mainland, more specifically Shanghai, due to government censorship, early pop artists moved to
Hong Kong and Cantopop rapidly developed. By the 1970s, Cantopop industry was well established with the assistance of new means of
communication including the television and radio and during the next decade, Xibeifeng style arose to hamper the dominance of Cantopop in
mainland China. It altered the subject matter of popular music from love and romance to national pride and sentiments about Chinese society.
Xibeifeng paved the way for Yaogunyue, Chinese rock and roll, which severely criticized the conformity of culture due to repressive government
policies and thus was censored greatly by the state. During the recent decades, popular music became increasingly similar to that of foreign
style music including the Korean and Japanese popular music which revolve around idolism.
IV. Common Trends
Throughout this research paper, I have addressed the popular music industry in the Soviet Union and China. While the two countries
show different stages of growth in its popular music culture, there are similarities between the two. The first common pattern is the
development of popular music from a form of entertainment to a means of criticizing the regime and the second common trend is the
subsequent government restrictions on the music industry. Lastly, the third common trend is the pattern of development of genres within popular music.
Both Soviet and Chinese popular music started from accepting a milder form of Western popular music. In Russia, VIAs used music produced by
state-owned recording firms and composers were also part of a government department. Therefore, the music they produced was inevitably strictly
regulated by the government and had no room for political criticism. Moreover, it took time for the Russian public to accept western style music;
only after 2 decades of exposure to Western beat and modification of economic policies was the public able to understand the flippant music. In fact,
musicians famous in the 1960s to 1970s were the bard musicians who, instead of incorporating purely western style of music to radically reform the
music industry, used folklore songs to give the music a Russian color. However, starting from the late 1970s, VIAs declined and rock groups started
to emerge. With the changes is social conditions such as the implementation of more open policies and the increasing dissatisfaction with the status
quo of the Soviet Union, rock music became popular among the young people. With this new music movement, lyrics started to depict individual
lives in the Soviet Union, a backwards nation. Groups such as Aquarium and Autograph criticized the authorities and punk and new waves groups
that emerged in the mid 1980s started to point out the party ideologies. From then on, popular music became a means for the youth to express their
criticisms and concerns about the society they were living in.
Similarly, Chinese popular music developed from a mild means of entertainment into means of criticizing the government. Prior to the 1960s, popular
music arose in the 1920s based on American jazz in Shanghai. However, they were forced out of Shanghai to move to Hong Kong, where they kept
the soft and mild rhythm of music based on Western pop and the lyrics related to romance and love. However, after the Tiananmen Square Massacre
in 1989, Chinese popular music goes through significant change with the exploding dissatisfaction and anger of the young intellectuals in the country.
Seeing how the ideals of the Communist Party were not being realized, the youth started to write lyrics criticizing the party ideologies and the Chinese
society in general. Rock and roll music, also called Yaogunyue, started to rise as a result of this sentiment and served as a means of delivering such
message of young artists to the public and the Chinese society as a whole. Its strong beat, aggressive bass and guitar with shouting and howling of
the vocals expressed the strength and the rebellious spirit of the new emerging class of university students who were now not blindly following the
political leaders of the Communist Party.
The second similarity is the government regulations imposed on popular music, especially against rock and roll in both countries. In Russia, rock and roll
became predominant in the 1980s and Gorbachev and the Ministry of Culture launched campaign to review all pop groups¡¯ repertoires and prevent
original and "harmful" contents were not performed to the public. In addition, 80% of the repertoire had to be music composed by the state-owned
composing committee which allowed no room for originality and criticism towards the government. Moreover, Western records were prohibited from
entering. Similarly, Chinese popular music artists were persecuted since the very beginning. Popular music was labeled as "yellow music," which means
pornography. Also, the Communist Party tried to professionalize musicians like the Soviets to make it easier for the government to control the industry.
In addition, popular music, especially rock music, was considered rebellious and was associated with Tiananmen Square Massacre, causing the government
to further restrict the performance of popular music by prohibiting rock groups from performing in open stages. Until the 1990s when the economy of the
society of both countries was reformed greatly, such governmental regulations were in place and attempted to hinder the growth of popular music.
Finally, the last similarity between the popular music industry of the Soviet Union and China is the division of them into different genres of music and
their course of development. Both Soviet and Chinese pop started from jazz and evolved into soft pop in the 1960s. The rhythm was slow and the lyrics
were sweet with smooth instruments at the background. Then, it went to a transition stage: for Soviet Union was the music composed by the VIAs and
the Bards and for China was the music composed in the Xibeifeng style. Music in the transition stage had rhythm stronger than the previous soft pop
but was still not quite as strong as rock. Also, it included melodies and instruments from folk music to make it more appealing to a wider public. Then,
in the 1980s, rock and roll developed in both countries which used electric guitars and bases with strong drum beat to represent the explosive power and
dissatisfaction of the younger generation. Finally, in the 1990s, rock music declined and soft pop rose again. However, the popular music artists were not
only performing music but became multitalented entertainers capable of singing, dancing and even acting. Thus, boy bands and girl bands rose and the
average age of pop artists decreased. Most musicians now are not only talented in music but also physically attractive, appealing to an even lower age group.
Therefore, popular music of both China and the Soviet Union walked through a similar path in its development where both governments felt threatened
by its growing popularity. Popular music in both industries is increasingly following the footsteps of Western pop music and is continuing to grow and
wield influence on the public.
Throughout this paper, I have elaborated on the history of popular music in both the Soviet Union and China and also discussed the similar trends in
both industries. Both countries showed a similar pattern of genre development increasingly becoming severe in style and then returning back to soft.
In addition, the way the government dealt with growing pop music was also similar for both nations with their regulations on performances.
Some of the causes of such similarity between the two nations could be explained in two ways: geographical and political reasons.
Both China and Russia are located east of the origins of popular music: Western Europe and the United States. Therefore, both countries received the
influence of Western music in a similar time period and thus the pattern of genre development had to be similar in some degree. Moreover, both
nations have vast territory, allowing regional diversity and differences to prevail. Therefore, the popular music differed in each region. In Russia, while
punk was popular in Moscow and Leningrad, folk rock and VIA music was popular in eastern provinces. In China, Xibeifeng became popular in the
Shaanxi region and other Northwestern provinces of China while Gangtai was popular in Beijing, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
In addition, political ideologies that governed both countries were communism and this common system caused the popular music industry to develop
in a similar manner. Both governments were opposed to the influx of Western culture and thus popular music was under constant government
opposition and threats as shown in previous sections of this paper. Moreover, due to such corruption and suppression of the state, lyrics naturally
became more and more critical, sarcastic and flippant. Both nations thus developed a rock genre that shared a common theme in terms of lyrics.
In conclusion, due to their political and geographical similarities, Soviet Union and China each developed a popular music industry that was similar.
The popular music of both nations has significantly influenced the thinking of the public, especially the youth, in the modern era and will continue to
grow to influence the societies of each nation.
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Identity and the Politics of Style. Thesis. The University of Texas at Austin, 1992
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