‘China’s Leonard Cohen’ Calls Out Corruption

NPR’s Louisa Lim profiles singer Zuoxiao Zuzhou, who has been described as “China’s Leonard Cohen” by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, and as the most important musician in China by Ai Weiwei.

On These Tiny Grapes, Zuoxiao’s new album of edgy ballads focusing on the woes of modern-day China, he hones in on rampant corruption, food scandals, injustice and abuse of power.

“The government blamed [milk company] Sanlu, and Sanlu blamed the farmers, and the farmers blamed the cows,” he sings about the 2008 tainted milk scandal in which six infants died.

[…] “Chinese people are too rubbish. I’m also one of them,” Zuoxiao says. “No one is willing to stand up and speak out. Now our house is being demolished and so many people are happy for their houses to be destroyed. Out of 100 houses, maybe only one or two of us will stick out.”

[…] His mood is best summed up on his new album — improbably, an album of children’s songs — where innocent-sounding voices highlight the darkness of the words. The album opens with the lines, “One group of corrupt officials takes down another group of corrupt officials, and that’s anti-corruption / A group of despots roots out another group of despots, and that’s beating the mafia.”

Short samples of Zuoxiao’s music are included in the audio version of the report. Four full tracks are also available for streaming at NPR.org, with more at the artist’s own site.

The singer’s battle to prevent the demolition of his home has attracted considerable support online. His comments on Chinese people’s supposed passivity echo those of author Yan Lianke, who said recently that intellectuals, including himself, “haven’t taken enough responsibility. They always have an excuse, saying they don’t have a reason to talk or don’t have the environment”.

See also a 2010 interview with Zuoxiao Zuzhou at The China Beat and considerably more information on his official site, via CDT.