China with a Cut: Globalisation, Urban Youth and Popular Music, by Jeroen de Kloet. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010. 255 pp. euro42.00 (paperback).
As Jeroen de Kloet points out in his introduction, most of the English language scholarship on Chinese rock has not addressed anything after the mid-1990s and as such there is a whole new generation of musicians and fans to be accounted for who have grown up in a very different political economy, surrounded by new technological innovations that have transformed music industries and cultures. De Kloet's contemporary focus with historical contextualization is therefore a most welcome addition to the growing field of scholarship on Chinese language music.
De Kloet provides a wonderful overview of different musical styles that connect to Chinese rock including folk rock, punk, underground rock and mainstream pop rock, among others. He deftly analyzes an array of important issues such as rock's contemporary claims of being both Western inspired and emblematic of Chinese identity, and the ways in which Chinese rock incorporates old Communist cultural revolution ideologies to be one of the people, to serve the people or, in the case of punk, to create anarchy. He examines gender issues in the hyper-masculine world of Chinese rock and rock artists' claims to musical authenticity in relation to their portrayal of pop.
As with any text, there are a few points that I would quibble with. De Kloet, for example, uses the term Gang-Tai pop to refer to the wildly popular pop music produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan, failing to recognize that the term is very much a PRC construction that centers Chinese music and culture in Beijing.
A second, related point is that in spite of the title's claim that the book is on popular music, China's rock is not very popular. De Kloet acknowledges both that rock has very low sales in relation to mainstream pop from Taiwan and Hong Kong, and that Western scholarship has for the most part focused on Chinese rock (p. 103). Rather than using this to problematize English language scholarship, however, he seems to draw on these points as validation for an even greater academic focus on rock and on Beijing as China's supposed musical and cultural epicenter.
The result of all of this is the occasional distortion of information. This inverted logic places pop, and not rock, in the chapter entitled "subaltern sounds". Graphs on the findings from his surveys (especially those on p. 149) create the erroneous impression that rock is only slightly less popular than pop music from Taiwan and Hong Kong which, if one looks at music sales, is not even close to the truth. …