Pussy Riot, Rock and Roll and China

For The International Herald Tribune’s Rendezvous blog, Mark McDonald explores the world of Chinese rock music in light of the Pussy Riot verdict in Russia:

The case has some echoes in China, which tolerates little political dissent from its artists, writers and musicians. The artist Ai Weiwei, for example, a hefty thorn in Beijing’s side, has frequent and unpleasant brushes with the law. Liu Xiaobo, the essayist, literary critic and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, remains in prison, as do other poets, writers and critics. Government censors are notorious for the erasing of objectionable political comments online and the blocking of offending blogs and Web sites.

Chinese musicians seem to have been dealt with less harshly, perhaps because they have rarely dared to openly taunt the Communist Party and the political system. China’s rock, punk, rap and hip hop artists don’t much go there, at least not brazenly and commercially; when they do offer a political message, they often drape their lyrics in word-play and oblique symbolisms.

A previous generation thrilled to the pointed and poignant music of Cui Jian, whom many consider the godfather of Chinese rock, but Young China still seems to be waiting for its Woody Guthrie, its Pete Seeger, its Bruce Springsteen. Still waiting for an Odetta, a Dylan, a Baez.

See also an interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books with Jonathan Campbell, the author of Red Rock: The Long, Strange March of Chinese Rock & Roll.