Academic journal article China Perspectives

Including Music in the Sinophone, Provincializing Chinese Music

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Including Music in the Sinophone, Provincializing Chinese Music

Article excerpt

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During the recent anti-extradition bill protests in Hong Kong, popular musicians from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China (PRC) produced songs in favour of or against the social movement. In June 2019, more than 20 Hong Kong and Taiwanese singers and composers released the song "Cheng" ... ("Support") or "Caang" in Cantonese. Produced by the Taiwanese music producer Blaire Ko ..., the song features famous Cantopop singers and activists such as Denise Ho ... and Anthony Wong ..., but also Taiwanese indie-rock bands such as The Chairman and Fire Ex The lyrics themselves were written by the Taiwanese songwriter Wu Hsiung and the famous Cantopop lyricist Albert Leung in both Cantonese and Mandarin. Unlike songs featuring popular singers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the PRC produced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to promote international events such as the Olympic Games or the Shanghai Expo, in this case, artists from Taiwan and Hong Kong all sang in their own language - Cantonese and Taiwanese Mandarin - abolishing any linguistic hierarchy. In August 2019, the Chinese nationalist hiphop crew from Sichuan, CD-Rev (Tianfu shibian ...), financed by the Communist Youth League, released an anti-protest song in English and Mandarin entitled "Hong Kong's Fall" (Xianggang zhi qiu ...).2 The song accuses the United States of interfering in China's national affairs and calls on the People's Liberation Army to "wipe out [the Hong Kong] terrorists," using footage from the state-owned news channel CGTN, which shared the song on its social media accounts with the tagline "Hey #HongKong protesters! Chinese mainland rappers have something to say."3 More mainstream PRC rappers, such as PG-One, VaVa, and the Higher Brothers, also shared on their social media accounts People's Daily pictures supporting the Hong Kong Police Force - using traditional Chinese characters.4 The Hong Kong protests show how important popular music has become as a strategic tool in the cultural and ideological battlefield between Hong Kong, Taiwan, the PRC, and beyond.5 The link between music and social movements has been extensively analysed as an affirmation of identities (Eyerman and Jamison 1998), a tool to mobilise the people (Balasinski and Mathieu 2015; Eyerman 2019), or by exploring the role of popular music in expressing "the voice of the voiceless" (Hennion 1983). Beyond political mobilisation, music also plays a role for individuals to exercise their agency and articulate their identities, having a role of "affective agency" (DeNora 2000). The purpose of this first special issue on Sinophone music is precisely to analyse how music circulates and is appropriated by various actors in the Chinese-speaking world and across the Pacific. To understand these musical circulations that transcend national borders, we have to make use of a concept that does not confine China and Chineseness to the geographical and political territory of the PRC.

Bringing the "phone"back into Sinophone

When Shu-mei Shih first coined the term "Sinophone" in her 2007 book Visuality and Identity, her aim was to analyse Sinitic-language visual cultural productions "on the margins of China and Chineseness" (Shih 2007: 4), defined not by the ethnic origins of these cultures, but by their language. This ambitious research project is located "within the geopolitical boundary of China as well as without, in various locations across the world"(Shih 2013: 8), and questions the pertinence of "Chineseness as a feature shared by ethnic Chinese on the basis of discrete traits and traditions" (Chun 1996: 113; see also, among others, Chow 1998 and Ang 1998). The initial focus on visual culture - movies, paintings, TV series, photography, artistic installations, and so on - was then legitimated by the importance of the image in a globalised world, "which can cross and recross linguistic frontiers effortlessly and rapidly" (Shih 2013: 8). …

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