Across the Borders: Hip Hop's Influence on Chinese Youth Culture

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Hip Hop as a Cross-cultural Phenomenon

Since Mainland China launched its social and economic reforms under the rubric of the "four modernizations" in 1978, China's nationwide "open-door" policy has allowed Chinese young people to experience the global influence of hip hop culture through direct and indirect contact with the Western world, especially the United States and neighboring countries like South Korea and Japan. Furthermore, recent technological innovations--the Internet being the most obvious--have offered everyone easy and fast access to hip hop culture in its different national manifestations. In China, hip hop is a relatively new phenomenon that has emerged mainly in metropolitan areas like Beijing and Shanghai. It has greatly influenced the Chinese youth culture and become a fascinating part of Chinese music, arts, and fashion. Hip hop-style music, dancing, and fashion are not only appreciated and embraced by young Chinese artists but also by the general youth population. Some urban young people wear loose trousers, colorful tee-shirts with dramatic images, headbands, necklaces, and metal chains, and there are newly established hip hop night clubs. Some universities offer "jiewu" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (hip hop dance classes) and promote research about the American hip hop culture, including its historical background, its social and cultural significance, and its global influence and impact (Wilbekin 1999).

Building on research concerning the global influence and impact of the American hip hop culture on the Japanese youth culture (Liu 2005) and certain comments (Liu 2009) on Hip Hop Japan (Condry 2006), this scholarly note addresses several questions.

What drives hip hop's influence across the globe?

A dynamically expressive verbal art form known as rap music first appeared in the inner city streets of New York in the early 1970s and has become the most prominent genre of music in America today (Rose 1994). Smitherman points out that with a "blend of reality and fiction, rap is a contemporary response to the pleasures and problems of black urban life in contemporary America" (1997, 1), one deeply rooted in the rich African-American sociocultural continuum. It was initially a verbal expression of African-American youth culture, voicing the experience of African-Americans who were largely oppressed and confined to urban ghettos. It perpetuated the African-American oral tradition and reintroduced the importance of music with something to say. Hip hop culture consists of rap music, graffiti art, break dancing, and "B-boy" fashion, all of which is informed by a rebellious attitude. Marriot (1990) emphasizes that oppressed African Americans used rap music to make their voices heard and to change the status quo.

With its powerful socio-cultural message, hip hop culture has had a major impact not only on the African-American community, but also on America as a whole. Hip hop's national (and now global) appeal is explained by its amalgam of self-expression, verbal dexterity, emotionally involving and explicit content, and outward physical expressions or body language (Mitchell 2001). As has often been observed, hip hop's influence has continuously increased and its reach has continuously expanded. Today, young people throughout the world participate in hip hop culture and make idols of rap artists in order to express themselves and make their voices heard.

What makes hip hop's influence possible in today's China?

After thirty year period of "closed-doorism" since the Chinese Communist Party rose to power in 1949, the Chinese government's social and economic reforms have opened China's door to the world. The Chinese now have more freedom of choice and better opportunities than ever before. There has been much foreign influence on various spheres of Chinese society, and hip hop has exerted a significant influence of its own. The unprecedented explosion in worldwide communication, technology, and migration drove hip hop's influence and expansion. …