Pop Culture in China: Music and Cinema

Pop Culture in China, with particular interest in the cinema and music, while we in the west may not know much about it, is just as important and as big as our own, only within their own culture. Unlike the west, where big stars may emerge from the United Kingdom or America, and go onto become a word wide phenomenon, a Chinese pop star will only really experience the fame within their own culture. The same can be said for things like their cinema, music, comics, and animation – it’s very much kept within China and not shared with the rest of the world, whether it be down to lack of success outside China, or simply that it’s not shared with the rest of the world.

The music scene is huge in China, while you may initially think of Chinese music being the traditional, and easily recognisable flute, string and cymbals (which, it’s important to add is still a large part of Chinese culture today), it is in fact very similar to our own music scene – they have pop (dubbed “C-pop” 中文流行音乐), rock, hip hop, and so on. C-Pop remains the most popular form of music today in China, boasting many singers and bands, along with award ceremonies and music tours.


While C-pop emerged from the 1920’s, Chinese hip hop is a very new and still emerging genre for them, only first appearing in the 1980’s, and more so in the early 2000’s when Eminems movie “8 Mile”, and along with other movies which helped increase the growth of Chinese hip hop. A lot of their hip hop is performed in english as they don’t feel Chinese works well or is suitable

Chinese Rock too is a very new genre in China, as the same with hip hop, it first emerged in the late 1980’s. These songs started off very political and idealistic, moving onto become quite vulgar and negative (Chi Zhiqiang 迟志强 Starting this particular genre of rock off, singing about his time in jail). During the early 90’s it hit its peak in the music scene, but due to strict censorship by the Communist party of banning rock music on tv and heavy restrictions on their performances, it started a slow decline into an underground culture. In 2004-2005 an American filmmaker Kevin Frtiz followed the Chinese Rock band “Beijing’s Joyside” on their first tour of China to make the film “Wasted Orient”, which comically depicts the pitfalls and hardship of trying to tour in China, where there is little taste for rock music.

“The film Wasted Orient is what it is pure and simple. It’s honest. It is the true way of Chinese rock n’ roll. It’s not glamorous. It’s filthy. It’s filled with despair. It’s very unwanted in that society and is shown in its citizens’ apathetic response to it” – Kevin Fritz

In Chinese cinema, they face some of the same restrictions as those within the rock music industry, there is heavy censorship from any films that contain political overtones, and many are simply outright banned in China. Despite this, China remains the third largest film industry of feature films produced yearly. Films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “House of Flying Daggers” are Chinese films that were very successful overseas, the former of which is the most commercially successful foreign film in US cinema, and provided a great introduction to Chinese cinema for many people, and helped increase popularity in older Chinese films that would have otherwise, been left unknown.

Chinese cinema doesn’t contain a motion picture rating system, so all films must be deemed suitable for all ages to watch, or it is not allowed to be screened. In the case of films such as those that come from Hollywood, many scenes and footage is cut out to be allowed to be screened. Some films are outright banned altogether, for example James Cameron’s Avatar was banned (though notably only in 2D) because it was thought it would possibly incite violence. Chinese censors also only clear 20 foreign films a year to be shown in the country, though through counterfeit DVD’s, people are freely able to obtain all internationally released films.

With the ever-growing popularity of things like the internet, being able to listen to Chinese Music, or watch Chinese cinema through streaming rental sites, or buying CD’s and DVD’s online, it’s much easier to obtain a better insight into these ever-growing area’s of Chinese pop culture these days, than it ever has been.

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