ROCK 'N' ROLL ON THE NEW LONG MARCH
China's best-known rock musician,
Cui Jian, writes about his musical career and his seminal1986
concert at the Beijing Worker's Stadium, which marked
the birth of the rock scene in China. His hit song "Nothing
to My Name" became an anthem for China's first post-Mao
On a cool night in 1986, I was invited
to take part in an unprecedented concert held at the
Beijing Worker's Stadium. The place was packed. I sang
an original tune, "Nothing to My Name," which people
seemed to like. When the concert ended and I stepped
outside, I saw some kids on the street imitating my
moves. Few Chinese, myself included, really knew what
rock 'n' roll was back then. But we knew it was something
that gave out energy. It was music with a message.
My musical odyssey began early. My
father, a trumpet player in the People's Liberation
Army, began teaching me the instrument when I was 14.
My tastes were strictly classical. In 1981, I joined
the Beijing Symphony Orchestra and played in it for
seven years. Things began to change in 1985, though,
when the British group Wham! gave a concert at the Worker's
Stadium. A year later I heard my first Beatles tape.
I started listening more and more to rock and writing
songs. I learned to play an electric guitar that a friend
of my father's had given me. After the Workers' Stadium
concert, I formed a band and made rock my life.
Things are different now. Rock has
become commercialized, and the performers want to make
money by playing the same music. Yet there is also a
younger scene keeping the spirit alive, playing in fringe
bars. Rock and roll is about equality. Some Chinese
are slaves to Western culture; others look East. I say
f--- all of them and be yourself. That's what I like
about rock and roll. You can talk straight.
CHINA GOES TO THE MOVIES
International award-winning director
Chen Kaige writes on the world-famous Beijing Film Academy,
and China's "Fifth Generation" of film. The moniker
refers to filmmakers who graduated in the early 1980s
such as Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum, Not One Less), Tian
Zhuangzhuang (The Blue Kite) and Chen himself. His works
include the internationally acclaimed Farewell My Concubine,
Yellow Earth, and most recently The Assassin.
I never expected to attend the Beijing
Film Academy. My father was a film director, and as
a child I used to go on the set to watch him. But I
actually thought it was pretty boring; it just seemed
like a lot of people shouting. I wanted to grow up to
be a scholar instead and study classical Chinese literature,
living my life behind a desk. I didn't think I would
be very good at working with people, or that I would
ever understand how to make people happy. To be a filmmaker
you have to be able do that.
When the Cultural Revolution ended,
I wanted to go to Peking University. The problem was,
like many other people of my age, I wasn't able to finish
middle school. All schools were closed when I was between
the ages of 12 and 17. A friend suggested that I try
to get into the Beijing Film Academy. The exam was less
demanding; he was sure I could pass.
The first time I took the test, I
failed. It was extremely disappointing, because I desperately
wanted to attend. A professor later told me they thought
I had answered the questions with a know-it-all-attitude
because of my father. Miraculously, they decided that
year, 1978, to accept more than the usual number of
applicants to the directing department. I was allowed
to take the exam a second time and passed. I was very
proud to get in. Three thousand people had applied,
and only 28 were accepted. Many talented individuals
didn't get to go. We were all very lucky.
The school was in Changping county
on the outskirts of Beijing. Because colleges had been
closed for so long, our professors had not taught in
more than a decade. They told us that all they could
do was show us films. So we often boarded a bus to the
Beijing Film Archive and watched movies. It was great!
We saw lots of American and Russian films. It seemed
like one long party. We had the freedom to see whatever
we wanted, say whatever we wanted and dream about what
we wanted to do in the future. We knew nothing about
films. All we had was passion, and we became passionate
about filmmaking. None of us liked Hollywood products.
We all preferred thoughtful European films and art-house
movies to the big moneymakers.
The filmmakers of the Fifth Generation,
as we were later called, were unique because we had
all endured the hardships of the Cultural Revolution.
I, for one, had something I really wanted to tell people,
a message. Each of us was determined to tell people
the truth. And we refused to compromise for the sake
of political ideology. Making propaganda films was out
of the question. My generation of film directors chose
to fight to do what we wanted to do, instead of what
others told us. We didn't want to make the same mistakes
that directors of my father's generation had.
When I graduated in 1982, I was sent
to the Beijing Film Studio to work. I was given a script
called Yellow Earth, a story about a wandering communist
soldier who travels to a farming village in northwestern
China to learn folk songs as part of a propaganda effort
to mobilize peasants against the Japanese. At first
I wasn't sure if I wanted to turn it into a movie, but
I did want to see the sites described in the script.
So four of us, including cameraman Zhang Yimou, spent
a month traipsing through northern China. We had to
walk for part of the trip because we didn't have a car
or a jeep. I was stunned when I saw the Yellow River
in Shaanxi for the first time. At that moment I knew
that I had to make the film.
Because the directors of the Beijing
Film Studio were not yet retired, there was no chance
for someone as young as myself, who wasn't interested
in creating propaganda, to get permission to make a
film. We decided to apply to a smaller entity, Guangxi
Film Studio in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi province.
The people who ran the studio weren't sure whether or
not they liked the script for Yellow Earth. But after
four hours of trying to convince them that it would
work, we got the project - and the financing.
Filming took about two-and-a half
months. Our budget was only US$50,000. It wasn't much
money, but at the time it seemed like a lot. After the
film was done we realized we had made something special,
that we had departed from typical storytelling form.
A leading official in the Beijing Film Bureau said initially
that he would "never sit in a dark room just to watch
a film like that." We went to his office, without an
appointment, and argued with him. He said we clearly
didn't know what we wanted to say in the film, and that
it didn't make any sense. But two months later the film
received good reviews at the Hong Kong Film Festival;
later it won the best picture award at the Hawaii International
Film Festival. When Zhang Yimou and I returned from
Hawaii - my first trip to the United States - the Chinese
censors said the film was okay because overseas audiences
It was not until the mid-1980s that
the West discovered the kinds of films we were making.
Most of these movies display an intense and beautiful
visual style, and a plain and simple form of narration.
The spirit was cultural humanism. We were all influenced
by our experiences during the Cultural Revolution. It's
ironic that Yellow Earth is still making money today.
(Of course, the budget was so low, it was not difficult
to turn a profit.) But back then we weren't even thinking
about money. It was financed by the state-run Guangxi
Even though the Fifth Generation
was one of the first groups of Chinese directors discovered
by the West, it was far from the first to make impressive
contributions. Soon after the motion picture industry
was introduced in the 1920s, China experienced a golden
age. Films made by top directors found favor in the
eyes of the city's petty bourgeoisie. The distinctive
style of realism reflected in the films came even earlier
than that of Italian neorealism. In the 1950s, some
new films, which had remarkable narrative techniques,
still managed to emerge, though their subjects were
highly politicized. These new films were dually influenced
by both Hollywood and the Soviet Union.
During the Cultural Revolution, China
made almost no feature films except those based on Peking
Opera or ballets known as "revolutionary model operas."
It's funny that the characters in these films were divided
into "heroes" and "enemies" in the same way they are
today in Hollywood.
HOLDING UP HALF THE SKY
Wu Qing is a professor of American
studies at the Beijing Foreign Languages University
and a deputy to the Beijing People's Congress. She writes
on the Forum for Women's Rights that took place in Huairou
at the same time as the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference
on Women in Beijing.
In the first week of September 1995,
it rained every day in Huairou, a picturesque town situated
an hour's drive northeast of Beijing. But the town was
actually flooded by women - thousands of activists from
around the world who had flocked to Huairou to participate
in the NGO Forum on Women, the sister confab to the
United Nations-sponsored Fourth World Conference on
Women being held in Beijing. The delegates were not
to be deterred by the weather. Everywhere I saw women
sitting amid the downpour discussing, mobilizing, advocating,
organizing, educating, negotiating. When no interpreters
were available, they used body language to get their
message across. The initiative, persistence, and fighting
spirit of the participants was overwhelming.
More than 40,000 women came to Huairou
with passionate concerns, as they knew the more official
conference in Beijing would be limited to a fixed agenda
on multilateral issues. At Huairou, we debated the finer
points of critical problems like prostitution, violence
toward women, female suicide and inequality in the home
China has more women than any other
nation. And after working for more than a decade on
issues dealing with women and development in China,
I realize the country has at least as much need as any
other for the kind of energy and initiative that came
out of the Huairou conference.
My involvement with such issues began
in the summer of 1990, when I visited several villages
in Huining county, one of the poorest districts in the
desperately impoverished northwest China province of
Gansu. The average annual income there was less than
US$25 per person. The land - mostly barren loess plateaus
- is poor and irrigation difficult. Many of the villagers
had no concept of what the word bao (full) meant, as
they went hungry most of the time.
Entering one village, I saw quite
a few retarded people sitting on the ridges of poorly
grown wheat fields; there were also many illiterates,
especially among women. I happened to visit a family
of three living in a small straw hut with a kitchen
inside. The husband told me that he considered himself
lucky, as he had bought himself a wife with US$50 and
she had given him a son. His six brothers - like many
middle-aged bachelors in the countryside - were too
poor to set up families for themselves. The wife herself
was happy: she had come from an even poorer village.
Without this visit, poverty would
have remained an abstract and dead word to me, seen
only in films and books. At that point I realized how
women bear the brunt of such poverty because of their
low social status. Some of them didn't have a proper
name: they were known as so-and-so's mother, or wife.
Their job was to give birth to children, especially
sons, and to take care of the family. On top of all
that, they had to work in the fields. I was stunned
and flabbergasted when I saw my sisters living in such
conditions. Tears welled up in my eyes.
Yet I was not disillusioned or disappointed
with the people or the work done by local village committees.
On the contrary, I felt proud of them for fighting so
hard under such conditions. That's when I made up my
mind to work with these people to help bring about change.
The decision launched me on a whirlwind, decade-long
voyage that has shown me both the depth of the problems
facing poor Chinese women and their amazing strength
in overcoming the challenges.
As an adviser to the monthly magazine
Rural Women Knowing All, I often travel to poverty-stricken
areas to lobby local government officials to enact women-friendly
policies: to encourage literacy programs, for instance,
or to establish micro-credit institutions so that women
can start their own businesses. The magazine has started
a practical skills training center for rural women to
help improve their access to vocational training. Experts
teach agricultural techniques, economics and law. At
the same time, the magazine sends doctors to rural areas
to lecture on sexuality, reproductive health and sanitation,
and to perform basic medical checkups on women.
It is not only in the countryside
that poor Chinese women face difficulties. The Migrant
Women's Club was founded in 1996 to help rural women
and girls who have come to Beijing to find work. To
help them improve their status, the club provides basic
education courses in Chinese, English, math, and computer
literacy. Twice a week club members attend lectures
on topics such as law, sex, gender, marriage, urban
social values and issues facing migrant women. The Maple
Women's Psychological Counseling Center in Beijing,
meanwhile, offers help over the telephone to women who
have problems related to marriage, family or divorce.
The center has helped train many counselors for hotlines
in other provinces and has hosted quite a few bilateral
and international conferences.
The social tensions created by China's
economic transition have also caused an increase in
violence against women. A group of female lawyers and
college professors has come together to set up a center
offering legal services to women who have been physically
or sexually abused. The center also invites top law
professors to talk about the Chinese legal system and
how to improve it, as well as about women's law and
how to add more teeth to it.
The vast range of these tasks suggests
the challenge China faces in improving conditions for
its female population. (And this does not even address
the issue of female infanticide, which poses a direct
threat to the future of Chinese women.) But in my work
I have been inspired by women working at the grassroots-level
planting trees and sinking wells, and trying to get
into local party committees so they can influence the
decision-making process. The passion on display in Huairou
in 1995 has lasted far longer than the conference -
as will, I hope, the impact of such activism.
OH BOY! ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY
Wang Shuo, a former sailor turned
best-selling fiction writer, has been described as a
spokesperson for China's 'beat' generation. This personal
account is an observation of the changes that have taken
place in China over the past 50 years. He is the author
of I Am Your Father and Playing for Thrills.
When the tenth anniversary of the
People's Republic of China was celebrated in 1959, I
was a year old, and I don't remember a thing. I do know
that a lot of kids born that year were given names like
Guoqing (National Day) or Shiqing (Tenth Anniversary).
Much later I saw Chinese films made in 1959. They weren't
like the movies that came afterward, which showed only
peace and prosperity. And so they were criticized during
the (1966-76) Cultural Revolution for depicting "bourgeois
humanism." That meant actresses falling in love on screen
with actors and, worse, having affection for their fathers.
It was all frowned upon as "love without reason," since
people could love only Chairman Mao.
When National Day came around in
1971, I was selected to join other children in displaying
big Chinese-character placards as part of that year's
parade. As the floats passed by the rostrum at Tiananmen,
we were each to open a page of our big coloring book
and hold it above our heads. Together we would form
huge slogans in the sky: "Long Live the People's Republic
of China!" and "Proletariat of the World Unite!" For
our daily rehearsals, we would get out of classes, gather
at our school and then walk more than 12 kilometers
to Tiananmen Square. Many of the smaller children suffered
from heatstroke or pissed in their pants. To the side
of the Square, row after row of manholes along the pavement
were covered with tents to become temporary toilets.
Sometimes while I was doing my business, girls clutching
their trousers would rush in to occupy the latrines
behind me. I would flee in panic through another exit.
Some of the boys felt similarly embarrassed but couldn't
stand up, as they were in the midst of squatting over
Finally, we mastered our rehearsals
and were ready for the parade. It was canceled, however,
because Lin Biao, Vice-Chairman of the Chinese Communist
Party, had just fled the country for the Soviet Union
and died when his plane crashed in Mongolia. Chairman
Mao was greatly hurt by the incident, and his health
got worse by the day. The celebrations that year were
moved to various parks. I went to Beijing's Summer Palace
to attend one. I was way in the back and, while string
instruments were being played on the stage, I got a
little lost. I tripped and fell. I still have a scar
on the back of my right hand from that day.
In subsequent years, we were issued
tickets for National Day celebrations in the parks.
Stages would be set up for acrobatics, Peking Opera
singers, even a women's military song-and-dance troupe.
I was a hooligan in those days. I would join other boys
and roam through the parks to meet girls. On these so-called
"Red Letter" days, girls from respectable families could
be found everywhere, alone or in groups. We went up
to them and teased them with frivolous words to win
their smiles. I had many beautiful, spiritual, unbearable-to-recall
love experiences in those parks.
The People's Republic's thirtieth
anniversary was in 1919. By then I was a sailor on a
small naval ship off the port of Qingdao in Shandong
province. My family was allotted just one ticket for
the National Day celebration at the Great Hall of the
People, and I was the lucky one to get it. This was
the onset of the era of reform and opening to the outside
world. The atmosphere was one of optimism. The program
for the evening gala was interesting. In addition to
song-and-dance performances and Peking Opera, foreign
films were screened. And there was a grand ball in the
banquet hall, where fashionably dressed young men and
women waltzed to music adapted from Chinese folk tunes.
I was dressed in my military uniform, and I did not
know how to dance then. I can't express how depressed
I felt. The manners and morals of the times had changed.
My uniform, which had once seemed fashionable and made
me proud, suddenly felt antiquated compared with the
dancers' high-heeled shoes, bell-bottoms, nylon shirts,
permed hair and quartz watches. Some of them were even
speaking English! When I left the naval unit, I did
not continue my application to enter the Communist Party.
I told my superior that I had access to some television
sets made in Japan and that I hoped to resell them at
a profit. I went to Guangdong to deal in smuggled electrical
China resumed the military reviews
at Tiananmen Square for its thirty-fifth anniversary
in 1984. I watched that one at home on TV. I saw Deng
Xiaoping, dressed in infantry uniform without rank,
sticking through the sun roof of a Red Flag limousine.
With his face radiant, he raised his right hand toward
the ranks of the military as his car moved slowly along
Changan Boulevard. His voice boomed through the microphone:
"How are you, comrades? You comrades have been working
hard!" The soldiers replied in one voice: "How are you,
chief? You have been working hard too!" When he returned
to the Tiananmen rostrum, Deng was shown in a close-up
with Hu Yaobang, then General-Secretary of the party.
Hu gave Deng a thumbs-up, as if to say, "Terrific!"
In another, widely publicized incident, students passing
by Tiananmen Square suddenly held out a banner saying:
"Xiaoping nin hao" (How are you, Xiaoping?). This brief,
cordial greeting moved us for years.
During China's fortieth anniversary,
in 1989, I was playing mahjong. It had been an unusual
year. During that period, I felt pain whenever I pissed.
The color of my urine was no longer clear. I feared
that I had contracted a venereal disease. When I went
to the hospital for a checkup, it turned out I was suffering
from prostate inflammation. The doctor said it was due
to too much bicycle riding and that I would be all right
after some rest. Since then my health has been getting
worse year after year.
How time flies! This year marks the
fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the People's
Republic. I hear that the Communist Party wants to have
a jolly time by resuming the military review and the
parade. Why not? The world's largest square should not
stand idle. People would say we don't know how to properly
celebrate a festival. Beijing has been tearing down
buildings that violate construction regulations. Two
bars that I once frequented have been demolished. Several
small shops in my neighborhood have also been pulled
down. Workers are replacing bricks on the pavement and
fixing up the greenery around the city. The festive
air began early. I hope they use National Day to really
make Beijing cleaner, as there is always rubbish that
doesn't get cleared away. I hope, too, that they can
complete some of the buildings and roads that never
seem to get finished on time so that when I am watching
TV I can see whether the city has met the high standards
of this rare occasion.
When I was young, 50 seemed like
a very big number. I once believed I'd never live a
long life and that my future would be different. But
now I am right in the middle of my own future, and I
have not found any real change in myself. My dream is
as far away as it was during my childhood. The only
difference is that I have already lost my will to realize
As I've grown older I've become accustomed
to this country. Perhaps "country" is not the proper
word; maybe "regime" is more appropriate. China is a
country with thousands of years of history, and it has
been ruled by this regime for the past 50. By and large
I accept this statement: our country will be as chaotic
and weak as Russia if the regime falls from power, and
in the end it will be the common people who get the
worst of it. "None of us wants our country to be in
a state of chaos, right?" I really do not know what
to say whenever I hear this question.