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Li Zhi

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Born in 1978 in Jintan, Jiangsu, Li Zhi (李志) is a singer-songwriter who began his career singing and writing about politics. He has in recent years enjoyed commercial success, but has maintained an honest self-awareness and discerningly expressed his commitment to the independent music scene.

At age 17, Li bought his first guitar, and at 20 he began to study music composition while living in Jiangsu’s capital city of Nanjing as a college student. After dropping out of school and briefly moving to Beijing, he returned to Nanjing and began performing in bars, teaching folk guitar, and following his passion for music to far-flung regions of China.

In 2004, Li borrowed 5,000 yuan from a friend and recorded his first album, "The Forbidden Game" (《被禁忌的游戏》). He composed two more LPs by 2006, and began gaining a wide following in China. Tickets to his shows are known demand a hefty price and sell out fast, and the artist has drawn controversy for his comments about China’s music scene. Ahead of a national tour last year, China Daily reported:

"People take it for granted that folk and rock singer-songwriters should cater to a minority taste and lower their tickets price. I don't think so," says Li.

Tickets for his national tour cost as much as 880 yuan ($142).

He adds that there are few independent singer-songwriters in the music industry "because their attitude and spirit are not independent".

"An independent singer-songwriter should have a clear understanding of his music and his audience, rather than counting on images designed by the record companies," he says. [Source]

Li has also been known for his outspoken views on Chinese politics. In 2010, just after Google announced its decision to move out of China, Li wrote an essay on his frustration over the official curtailment of expression in China:

Really, I’ve always looked forward to Google’s retreat from China’s market, not because it lines up with my ideals for Google, and not because we will [[scale the wall | inevitably find ways] to use Google in simplified form.

The real reason for Google’s decision is still unclear, but my wishful thinking has been happily rewarded. Because since 1949, China has had these nasty habits of covering up the truth controlling expression, and over the last few years things have only gotten worse. On the surface, these tendencies are unlikely to affect life, but over time it will render people totally incapable of independent thought, making reason and logical judgement nothing but an imbecile’s fantasy. We can’t see the proverbial woods for the trees, and in this way the cache of "sensitive words" multiplies. How will my generation be able to recognize itself and others? We’re like pigs, just sitting around and fighting with each other in the pen they put us in. Ignorant and unable to think for ourselves, we are clubbed down a narrow channel of nationalism, becoming mere tools at our rulers’ disposal. I am unwilling to be degraded in this way.

It’s simple enough. Google is an information storehouse. The government asked them to filter their search results because they fear "we will know to much." Only by concealing the facts can they set up their lies, and only by constantly lying can the totalitarians keep their people paralyzed. In the end, the values of the whole are neglected for the interests of the few. I am unwilling to be this stupid and cowardly.

So what will I do? "Dangerous expression" has no foothold on the internet. If they want, even the two words "Li Zhi" could become unviewable. Should I march down the streets chanting? It would just get a bunch of aunties to surround and watch me before the police drag me off. What can I do? What can any of us do? Protest, no matter for how long, will not give rise to any great wave. All it will do is jeopardize the little bit of "freedom" we possess. From music, I see clearly my own crude skill and the infuriating farce of the Chinese people. Is it darkness, or is it ignorance? The hazier the logic gets, the crazier the people get.

Our leaders are not ignorant clowns. They know how to control things. They understand "how the red sun rose." I’m frustrated by our fate. Fine, Google, leave. You failed to overthrow the Emperor, but you tried, and to great effect. Proceed... Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, Procter & Gamble, Audi, Sharp, Mitsubishi… You can all retreat. Let us go back to the days of waiting for foreigners to topple statues of Saddam. Then begins another tragic fate. This is the China I love.

In the days of the Republic, Lu Xun also had to hide in the Concession so he could say what he wanted to say. Today? Google’s concession is already gone.

So, screw you, China.