Diablo Valley College Global Studies Essay

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Jin Liu Rap music and hip-­hop culture, usually perceived as originating in the local African-­American street culture of the South Bronx area of New York City, have been continually relocalized and thus globalized by youth speaking different languages all over the world. The distinctive linguistic feature of the localization of rap music in mainland China is not so much that it is rendered in the official national language, the Standard Mandarin ( putong­ hua, literally “common speech”), but rather that the rhythmic vernacular transforms into distinct colloquial, nonstandard local languages or dialects ( fangyan, literally “regional speech”).1 Particularly since 2001, there has been a proliferation of rap songs, sometimes blending English and Standard Mandarin words, in Shanghai Wu, Hangzhou Wu, Suzhou Wu, Wenzhou Wu, Yixing Wu, Jinyun Wu, Changsha Xiang, Hakka, Nanjing Mandarin, Yangzhou Mandarin, Wuhan Mandarin, Beijing Mandarin, Northeastern positions 22:1 doi 10.1215/10679847-2383840 Copyright 2014 by Duke University Press Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 Alternative Voice and Local Youth Identity in Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music positions 22:1 Winter 2014 264 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 Mandarin, Sichuan Mandarin, Qingdao Mandarin, Guangzhou Cantonese, and so on. Moreover, although a handful of (semi-­)Chinese rap songs predate the Internet, the wave of rap songs did not hit until the emergence of Internet-­mediated songs (wangluo gequ) in China, which was arguably ushered in by Xue Cun’s Flash-­accompanied hit song “Northeasterners Are All Living Lei Fengs” (“Dongbeiren doushi huo Lei Feng”) in 2001.2 This song, with a strong Northeast flavor, initiated a trend of Internet songs rendered in local languages. Besides reworking popular songs whose lyrics were originally in the dominant Standard Mandarin, Internet-­savvy youth began to write rap songs in the various Chinese regional languages. The principal focus of this essay is to examine this emerging trend of Chinese local-­language rap songs in the age of the Internet.3 In one of the few critical studies on Chinese hip-­hop, Jeroen de Kloet, inspired by Rey Chow’s reading of Walter Benjamin’s translation theory and Mary Douglas’s book Purity and Danger, views Chinese hip-­hop as cultural pollution and contamination that affects both the “assumed origin” and the “alleged copy.”4 Taking the Yin-­Tsang band, which is composed of members from various nationalities, as a case study, de Kloet argues that the impurity and dirt in such a band renders the notion of Chineseness “highly problematic” and therefore subverts “any longing for cultural essentialism and nationalism.”5 Viewing inauthenticity as a productively postmodern sort of impurity, de Kloet also briefly discusses how the “inauthentic” Chinese hip-­ hop pollutes the imagined and constructed “origin” of hip-­hop. However, his comparison of the Chinese “copy” and the Western “origin” is cursory. Using a stereotyped US-­based hip-­hop ideology as the yardstick and evaluating the oeuvre of Yin-­Tsang alone, de Kloet lists a series of superficial “absences” in Chinese rap songs, for instance, “the absence of (the violence in) the ghetto or the ‘hood,” and fails to explore many underlying “presences,” or the intrinsic generic similarities in Chinese hip-­hop, something this essay tries to demonstrate.6 Taking an explicit US-­centric approach, several critics covering the emerging rap music scene in China for Western media also fault Chinese hip-­hop for its lack of rebelliousness and explicit social and political commentary. They thus dismiss Chinese rap as being too mainstream and further suggest that Chinese youth have been brainwashed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s official ideology.7 Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 265 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 It is important to recognize that in one sense, Chinese hip-­hop is, in fact, imitation. The perceived origin of rap music in the United States is a source of inspiration and aspiration for young Chinese rappers. Wang Fan, a Shanghai-­based pioneer of rap, named himself BlaKK Bubble, the double Ks paying homage to his favorite rap duo, Kris Kross. Wang was first introduced to hip-­hop music in the 1990s through the dakou (cut) audiocassettes and CDs illegally imported from the United States.8 He became friends with Dana Burton, a Detroit native who is credited with founding an annual rap competition in China in 2002. For the local Chinese wannabe emcees (MCs), the element of the ethos of freestyling and US gangsta rap they espouse the most is the freedom “to speak your piece,” although this perceived freedom would merely mystify their peers in the United States. They identify with this US minority youth music genre in part because it empowers marginalized, alienated, and restless teenagers, which is evidenced, for example, in Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) Frontline interview with the Beijing rapper Wang Xiaolei in 2008 and Jimmy Wang’s New York Times reportage on the Northeastern rapper Wang Li in 2009.9 In addition, in terms of rap production, Chinese rappers freely and sometimes mindlessly borrow the Western beats that they download from the Internet. For instance, the beat for Beijing In 3’s furious “Hello Teacher” (“Laoshi hao,” 2008), which I will discuss later, is from the slain Tupac Shakur (2Pac)’s “Hit’Em Up.” However, as Ian Condry warns, amid the never-­ending charges of “imitation” leveled at hip-­hop musicians in Japan, original authenticity and local creativity are often inextricably intertwined in these transnationally oriented productions.10 He suggests, for example, that “if we define imitation as working within a genre of music, in the case of hip-­hop perhaps characterized as sampled and programmed tracks over which emcees rap rhythmically nuanced rhymes, then all contemporary hip-­hop, in Japan and anywhere else, for that matter is imitation.”11 Rather than arguing over the extent to which Chinese rap is imitative, this essay is more interested in exploring the performative force that Chinese rap achieves through imitation or appropriation — in other words, the music’s impact on the local community and the local significance that Chinese youth create by mobilizing the generic conventions of hip-­hop. Moreover, this essay disputes the common criticism of Chinese rap as lacking social and political commen- positions 22:1 Winter 2014 266 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 tary; these criticisms are based on limited data. Through a close reading of rich local-­language rap song texts combined with fieldwork interviews, this essay argues that unlike the mainstream popular love songs in the mainland China music market, which are dominated by Standard Mandarin, local-­ language rap songs are characterized by strong social messages, which thus enable Chinese youth to construct an alternative subcultural space outside that defined by adult culture and hierarchical institutions. Mediated by the largely uncensored Internet musical space, these rap songs assert an oppositional, counterhegemonic voice against the Chinese educational system, high official culture, and mainstream discourse. Furthermore, rendered in regional languages, these rap songs are infused with distinctive local knowledge and the sensibilities of a specific place. The songs articulate a distinct musicalized, collective local identity for urban youth by adopting a strong convention in the rap music genre, namely, the representation of one’s hood/posse/city/region/territory.12 Much of the recent academic interest in locality and spatiality is related to the study of globalization and localization. Yet in most research, the local appears to be interchangeable with the national. For instance, Timothy Craig and Richard King’s book explores how global or US cultural and musical resources and commodities have been appropriated and integrated with local knowledge by artists and musicians in the so-­called “local” nation-­states such as China, South Korea, and Malaysia.13 However, this essay presses the issue of localization further, examining local communities that are contained within the nation-­state. From this perspective, the function of the nation-­ state seems more and more aligned with globalization and its concomitant homogenization and centralization. In China’s quest for modernity during the twentieth century, one of its central aims was to build a unified modern national language. The essence of fangyan was variously identified and characterized as the living, vernacular, or oral language; regional speech; one’s mother tongue; folk language; vulgar slang; or the rural or provincial patois of the illiterate masses. It was an integral part of major literary movements and intellectual debates: the phonetic script reform and the national language movement that began in the late Qing period; the baihua vernacular movement, including the folk song – collecting movement in the May Fourth era; the discussion on mass language (dazhongyu) and the Latinized Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 267 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 New Writing movement in the 1930s; and the debate on “national forms” during the period of the Sino-­Japanese war (1937 – 45). With its own multiplicity, heterogeneity, and hierarchy, local language was associated with and simultaneously dissociated from this historical project of building a modern nation-­state, a national culture, and a national language. Although local languages were valued and promoted at various historical moments, they were fundamentally and ultimately suppressed, marginalized, transformed, and subordinated as subnational languages or dialects. Moreover, the state-­ promoted Putonghua, after the massive revolutionary program of linguistic engineering, formalization, and orthodoxization in the Mao era, has evolved into an “overly politicized language” or a peculiar “social dialect” strongly associated with the official discourse in the postsocialist reform period, as some contemporary Chinese writers and poets reflect upon it.14 The state’s recent efforts to promote a single, standard Mandarin and impose linguistic uniformity and homogenization are represented in the 2001 Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Use of Chinese Languages and Chinese Characters (Zhonghua renmin gongheguo guojia tongyong yuyan wenzifa), the first national law on language and writing. The law prescribes Putonghua as the principal language for broadcast radio, television, movies, school education, and administration; the use of local languages is strongly discouraged in mass media and in the public sphere. In this sense, the contemporary resurgence of local-­language cultural productions, including rap music, in mainland China provides a unique vantage point from which to critique and challenge Putonghua and the Putonghua-­dominated official discourse. Long excluded and marginalized by the national language, the “vulgar” slang-­studded local languages help to articulate marginalized and unassimilated identities in postsocialist China, to enable those on the periphery to criticize the center and comment on the failure of modernity, to foster a strong sense of a distinctive local community that challenges any monolithic accounts of Chineseness, or to provide youth with a noninstitutional language that allows them to explore an alternative cultural space. Finally, on one hand, this essay recognizes a dialectical relationship between the global and the local, which do not necessarily pose as cultural polarities but are interpenetrating, interacting, and mutually signifying. For example, in the field of popular music, Andy Bennett argues that far from positions 22:1 Winter 2014 268 Xue Cun’s Song and the Wave of Internet Songs in Local Languages In China and elsewhere in the world, the production and dissemination of popular music is inextricably bound up with the technology that makes it possible. In 2000, the first online purchase of a popular song, enabled by digital audio technology, was successfully made in China.18 In 2001, Xue Cun’s “The Northeasterners Are All Living Lei Fengs,” with a distinctive northeastern spin aided by Flash-­animation cybertechnology, arguably became the first widely circulated Chinese online song. The song eulogizes the good deeds of the Northeasterners through a synecdochic substitution of an ordinary working-­class or peasant Northeasterner for the entire population. In a basic, mostly repetitive diatonic melody, the seventy-­five-­second song tells a simple story: Mr. Zhang drives to the Northeast and gets injured in a car accident. The driver who caused the accident flees the scene. Fortunately, a Northeasterner helps out by taking Mr. Zhang to the hospital. After recovering, Mr. Zhang invites the Northeasterner for dinner to thank him, and Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 subsuming distinctive local cultures into a single homogenized global culture, globalization may in fact enhance local differences.15 Similarly, Tony Mitchell, drawing on Roland Robertson’s term glocalization, which involves a simultaneous twofold process of “the universalization of particularism and the particularization of universalism,” argues that “hip-­hop and rap cannot be viewed simply as an expression of African American culture; it has become a vehicle for global youth affiliations and a tool for reworking local identity all over the world.”16 However, on the other hand, although local-­language rap songs assert the value of pluralism and diversity and defy the characterization of China as a unified, homogeneous nation-­state, this essay problematizes the local identities constructed through copying and imitation. The eager desire to compete with each other in asserting a local identity might belie a general anxiety of placelessness in a dramatically globalized world. Therefore, these constructed local identities, which form diversity within similarity, plurality within unity, and localization within globalization, may turn out to be what Stuart Hall calls that more “tricky version of ‘the local’ which operates within, and has been thoroughly reshaped by ‘the global’ and operates largely within its logic.”17 Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 269 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 the Northeasterner says, “We are all Northeasterners. The regional specialty in our place is Korean Ginseng. And pork stewed with bean noodle. We are all living Lei Fengs. We don’t have such a person in our place. How can someone not help the injured after causing the accident? On the hills in our place grow fungus mushrooms. That man is not a Northeasterner!” In the song, typical Northeast Mandarin pronunciations such as yin for ren (person) and zuyou for zhurou (pork) are integrated with characteristic Northeast Mandarin words such as anmen neiga (we there, our place), words for well-­known regional specialties such as gaolisen (Korean ginseng), and words for local cuisine such as zuyou dun fentiao (pork stewed with bean noodle). The Internet played a key role in making the song a national hit. The singer-­songwriter Xue Cun, a dropout from Peking University (PKU), wrote the song as early as 1995, but it was dismissed by record companies at the time. In 2001, a PKU alumnus, Liu Lifeng, among others, made a quirky Flash animation and uploaded it to a PKU-­hosted Web site, which soon became the major source for the song’s dissemination among college students, including diasporic students overseas. In 2002, Ying Da, also a PKU alumnus, adopted the song as the theme song for his popular Northeast Mandarin sitcom A Family in the Northeast (Dongbei yijiaren, 2002). Thus in 2003, the song’s final soliloquy “Cuihua, get me pickles” ranked among the top three catchphrases among Chinese youth in a survey.19 As this chronology of the song’s success clearly shows, the song, although written by a college dropout, was first appreciated and promoted by university-­educated youth, particularly cultural elites from the most prestigious universities, such as PKU. Their (re-­)appreciation of noninstitutional knowledge that lies beyond the scope of their formal education — for example, knowledge of local language and indigenous regional culture — cannot be understood without the context of globalization. In his article “Local Language in the Age of the Internet,” Li Rui expresses great consternation that the Internet would encourage the global dominance of hegemonic English to the point that all other languages, including standard Chinese, would be marginalized as local dialects and face the threat of elimination. He cites Han Shaogong’s critically acclaimed novel Dictionary of Maqiao (Maqiao cidian) as an admirable effort to demonstrate the complexity, richness, and liveliness of Chinese local languages and cultures.20 He writes, “In positions 22:1 Winter 2014 270 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 such an age of the Internet, under such circumstances, resisting formatting, resisting the hegemonic control of the language of the center, insisting on the independence of local dialects, reexamining the value and significance of local dialects, and appealing for and establishing the equality of languages are issues unavoidable not only for literature but also for everyone.”21 In this light, Xue Cun’s song can be interpreted as resisting global or national homogenization and celebrating diversity and pluralism. As Zhang Ning vividly illustrates with a culinary metaphor, the younger Chinese generation is fed up with the ketchup and French fries of the ubiquitous McDonald’s and is now turning to indigenous regional peasant cuisines such as Cuihua’s northeastern pickles for a fresh alternative.22 Subnational local languages and cultures are reinvented as an unexpected and refreshing source of popular youth culture that Chinese youth are exploring on the Internet in the new millennium. Xue Cun’s song ushered in a trend of online songs rendered in local languages. Reworked versions of popular songs, originally set in Standard Mandarin, the dominant language for lyrics, are rampant on the Internet. For instance, Yang Chengang’s Internet hit “The Mouse Likes Rice” (“Laoshu ai dami,” 2004) was rendered in numerous versions encompassing the seven major dialect groups. Taiwan pop superstar Zhou Jielun (Jay Chou)’s “Nunchuks” (“Shuangjiegun,” 2001) was reworked as “The Chongqing Peasant Version of ‘Nunchuks’ ” (“Shuangjiegun zhi Chong­qing nongmin ban”) in Chongqing Mandarin and was ranked among the top ten most-­searched dialect songs in 2004 on a baidu chart. Moreover, the rap songs created by Internet-­savvy urban youth are primarily a form of digital music. The rappers create songs on home computers with music software, using sampling and beats downloaded from the Internet. Upon completion of these homemade, mostly raw pieces, they upload their demos onto the Web. Sometimes accompanied by Flash-­animation versions, the songs are disseminated mainly among local urban youth sharing the same native dialect. Clearly, the Internet is the major venue for the production, circulation, and consumption of local-­language rap songs. It offers a largely unofficial cyberspace for Chinese youth to voice their discontent, frustration, and rebellion against their parents’ culture and hierarchical systems. The next section elaborates on this trend. Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 271 Addressing social issues is a prominent theme in Chinese local-­language rap songs, as the following table illustrates. Table 1. Social Issues in Chinese Local-­Language Rap Songs Artist/Band Name Pen Peng (Poom Poom) Song Title and Year Local Language Theme “Go Back Home, Shanghai Wu a critique of pop stardom Peasants” (“Huiqu and the entertainment zhongtian,” 2003) industry Jihetuxing (Geometric “A Turbulent Day in Suzhou Wu a condemnation of school Figure) School” (“Xuesheng education fengyun,” 2004) Hao Yu “College Evening Study Northeastern Mandarin a snapshot of the chaos Room” (“Daxue zixishi,” and disorder of college 2003) students’ evenings of study Koushuijuntuan (Saliva “Someone with Too Hangzhou Wu everyday urban Regiment) Much Swagger” experience (“Ren’erdeng,” 2001) Hei Bang (Hi-­Bomb) “No. 87 Avenue Joffre” Shanghai Wu childhood nostalgia (“Xiafeilu de bashiqi hao,” 2004) Unknown “Everything Is Being Guangzhou Cantonese a protest against Dismantled; Cantonese restrictions on Cantonese Must Not Be Dismantled” in local media (“Mat dou caak, gwongzauwaa m hoji caak,” 2010) Yin San’r (In 3) “Beijing Evening News” Beijing Mandarin a bashing of mainstream (“Beijing wanbao,” 2008) media Hei Sa (Black Head) “Fuck Japan” (“Liansi Shaanxi Xi’an Mandarin anti-­Japanese nationalism xiaoriben,” 2003) Zhu Xiaolei “Hello, Chen Shuibian” Partly Nanjing Mandarin political commentary (“Nihao, Chen Shuibian,” 2006) Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 An Alternative Cultural Space positions 22:1 Winter 2014 272 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 Sometimes the young rappers’ social comments and opinions are so biting and polemical that they are likely to arouse controversy and debate. For example, in his “Qingdao Bumpkins” (“Qingdao laobazi,” 2004), the then seventeen-­year-­old MC Sha Zhou unabashedly expressed his strong dislike of the peasant workers’ migrating to Qingdao, using derogative local words such as laobazi (country bumpkins) and bæ biaola (stop being a sucker or an idiot). Sha Zhou complains about the urban chaos and moral decline brought by the migrant workers, such as the salon prostitutes from rural Jimo County. He is outspoken about what is going on around him and what he thinks about it. Yet his strong opinions were perceived as offensive and immediately evoked controversy in the local community after the song was uploaded. Some migrant workers felt so demeaned and insulted when they first heard the song in an Internet café that they called the local newspaper to find out who the singer was and demand a public apology from him.23 Thus when we compare these local-­language rap songs to the mainstream popular songs largely rendered in the Putonghua Mandarin of mainland China, we find that the lyrics of the former are usually about more collective social issues and not about personal romantic love, while the latter are largely dominated by love songs, although sometimes nationalistic or propaganda songs are also popular.24 In this sense, dialect rap songs can be viewed as a conscious reaction of young rappers to the prevalence of pop songs. The Shanghai rap duo Hi-­Bomb said in an interview, “The domestic music market is unanimously those love songs, yet actually young people need more styles to choose from, and our album provides just such an alternative for fans.”25 Sichuan Chengdu rapper Li Sui (aka Sleepycat) also told me that he was sick of those saccharine love songs; embracing the genuine, “keep-­ it-­real” attitude of rap, he characterized pop love songs as fake and pretentious.26 This reaction to mainstream pop music, of course, is not confined to the relatively new genre of rap. As early as the mid-­1980s, Cui Jian, the godfather of Chinese rock, had viewed rock-­and-­roll ideology as an expression of resistance and of opposition to the “superficial, empty, soft, and feminine” pop music from Hong Kong and Taiwan and to the popular music industry in general.27 A play That Night, Let’s Do Music (Nayiye, women gao yinyue), first staged in June 2009 in Beijing, parodies a Grammy-­style music Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 273 My music is the only way for me to vent out my feelings, can’t imagine where I would be without it. . . . I gave up that suffocating place, where I felt depressed, trapped in a prison; everyone is doing the same thing, and that place deprived me of the right of being me. Even if the price is to give up that so-­called diploma, I don’t believe a piece of paper can really prove anything. What a joke.32 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 award gala and satirizes evil practices in the contemporary pop music industry. Nevertheless, although romantic love is usually regarded as a universal theme of pop music, love songs experienced a decade-­long struggle with government institutions before they were officially recognized by the state in the late 1980s as a legitimate musical genre in mainland China.28 But now that formal institutions have largely accepted free love as a sphere in which youth can be assertive, Standard Mandarin nevertheless remains the dominant language by far for romantic expression, and so using local language provides access to another sphere that is not yet defined and sanctioned by formal institutions. Local-­language rap opens up and constructs an alternative, subcultural space in which youth can actively and assertively voice their views about society and their own lives rather than passively submit to their parents’ culture and hierarchical institutions.29 Among other symbols of authority, the “notorious” Chinese educational system is a major institution against which disaffected youth rebel. Most rappers can hardly be regarded as high academic achievers. Both Dong Lei, the founder of the Hangzhou band Saliva Regiment (2001 – 3), and Sha Zhou, the Qingdao MC, dropped out in their first year of technical high school. MC Webber (Wang Bo), one of the founding members of the Beijing band Yin Tsang, quit school at the age of fifteen. Shanghai rapper Sun Bin (aka Lotz) never liked school, and his formal education ended with elementary school.30 Chengdu rapper Li Sui, a senior high school student in 2009, resisted the university entrance exam by writing a rap composition in one of the mock exams.31 Instead of allowing themselves to be ostracized for incorrect thoughts or actions, these youngsters showed agency and subjectivity in making their decision to leave school voluntarily. Regarding rap as a powerful form of expression and empowerment, Sha Zhou raps in the song “Why I Sing” (“Weishenme gechang”) on his debut album, positions 22:1 Winter 2014 274 You lost your fucking words so you say I made you lose your mind You threw away my bag, I don’t think I can forget that I got issues with you because you never let me switch chairs How do you expect me not to talk dirty when you always seat me next to a trash can ... You ripped up my paper for “plagiarizing” on an obviously open notes test Look at your bitch-­ass self Fucking with me just because you’re menopausal, go home and fuck yourself Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 He did soon find that rapping was another path to fulfillment, something that demonstrated his talents and self-­worth, particularly after the big commercial success of his first album. Aside from the dropouts, even those college students who got their diploma have a strong opinion about Chinese education. Chen Haoran of In 3, himself a graduate from the Central Conservatory Academy, similarly blamed Chinese education for discouraging individualism, blunting creativity, and exerting uniformity.33 And in his group’s powerful song “Hello Teacher,” Chen launched a fierce denouncement of his middle-­school teacher and his education. The song starts with a sample from Wang Shuo’s banned film I’m Your Daddy (Wo shi ni baba, 1996), adapted from his novella of the same title. The sound clip is about a conflict between the son Ma Che and his teacher in the classroom, which is triggered when Ma questions the ridiculousness and implausibility of the revolutionary rhetoric in the textbook the teacher is reading: a captured communist soldier stares at his nationalist executor with his eyes simultaneously conveying three emotions: fury, optimism, and contempt. Completely blind to the illogic in this typical piece of rhetoric in a Maoist hero narrative, the teacher scolds Ma for behaving pompously and asks him to get out of the classroom. Refusing to leave, Ma daringly confronts his teacher, and the whole class becomes chaotic. Losing his temper, the rapper unleashes a torrent of filthy language, venting his years of pent-­up anger in a hysterical and furious voice. Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 275 A prominent feature of In 3’s lyrics, as in many other dialect rap songs, is their trademark use of local expletives and slang, such as their pet phrase, the Beijing curse word (ni) ya (literally “daughter of a bitch”).35 One of Pierre Bourdieu’s main theses is that the educational system as an institution plays a decisive role in the promotion, standardization, legitimization, and imposition of an official language and that the dialectical relation between the educational system and the labor market conspires to devalue those local dialects that are thus relegated to the status of patois and are often dismissed as uneducated, vulgar, and coarse.36 Here, the rapper deliberately uses taboo language, forbidden and censored in schools, to launch a discursive revenge against his teachers and the educational system. Therefore, as a noninstitutional language that has long been excluded and expunged from formal education, mass media, and mainstream society, local language provides a rhetoric of social status and identity outside the categories defined by these hierarchical institutions. In this sense, local language becomes associated with an oppositional youth subculture.37 Some local-­language rap songs, peppered with local gang argot and street slang, depict a gangsterish, violent world, a world that is largely excluded from the formal school curriculum. For instance, in the band’s hit song “A Mooched Meal” (“Jian’er fan/Jiẽ er vẽ,” 2002), set to the “Can-­Can” tune from Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, Dong Lei rhymes in Hangzhou Wu about eating in a restaurant with no intention to pay. Loosen my belt and I start eating. I ain’t got no money to meet no ends, so let me pretend. Hey, go get the manager. My stomach’s broke, and it’s all your fault, son! So what are you gonna do!? (Pay me son!) One more word and I’m wrecking your business. Keep eating my time and you’ll eat my fist. Son, don’t blame me, I’m just an OG. Messing with a punk like you isn’t even a thing. Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 Everything I committed outside you wouldn’t dare think about, bitch Two minutes into class, excuse my interruption, but I’ve already cut you off Never checked my homework, everything’s just a motherfucking two Apart from the gym teacher, you’re all sons of bitches.34 positions 22:1 Winter 2014 276 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 The dense use of local words and slang such as bawangcan/bahuangcẽ (a despot’s meal [unpaid by force]), gaoqiniansan/gaoqiniẽsẽ (mess around), and biansanfan/piẽsẽvẽ (to beat someone) conveys a strong sense of hooliganism or chivalry in the jianghu underworld, a particular entity hardly reducible to the official mainstream society where Putonghua is spoken. Similarly, Chen Xu’s “The Northeast Specialty Is Not Underworld” (“Dongbei techan bushi heishehui,” 2004) in Northeast Mandarin seems at first to refute the regional stereotype, in line with the song’s title, but ultimately reinforces the stereotype with its dense use of violent and aggressive local slang and idioms pronounced in the distinct Northeast Mandarin intonation, for example, shuadadao (play tricks), danlian (one-­to-­one fight), xiaoshu buxiu bu zhiliu’r/ ren bu xiuli genjiujiu’r (a tree wouldn’t be straight without pruning/a person would be arrogant without fixing). These unconventional songs — widely circulated online and energetically performed at nightclubs — generate the “emotional energies” among the youth audience that promote peer group solidarity and form a collective subcultural youth identity.38 Chen Haoran of In 3 found that the power of hip-­hop is in getting people together and uniting them.39And their provocative song “Hello Teacher” undoubtedly provides a form of cathartic release as well as empowerment for numerous disgruntled, oppressed students in China. The song was overwhelmingly well received online and has greatly helped to launch the rap trio’s rise to underground stardom in Beijing. As of September 2009, the video had been viewed over one hundred thousand times on YouTube since it was posted in September 2008. Similarly, once Dong Lei uploaded the song “A Mooched Meal” onto several Hangzhou-­ based campus networks in 2002, local young fans enthusiastically raved about it.40 Chen Xu’s “The Northeast Specialty Is Not Underworld” also ranked number one on a baidu chart of the top ten most-­searched-­for Internet songs in 2004. Although rap is a male-­dominated field in China and elsewhere in the world, a small number of young Chinese women have taken up rapping to challenge this male dominance and the patriarchal view that women are not suited for performing this style of music.41 “Fall Under Your Spell” (“Xinliao ni di xie,” 2006), a song by the Wuhan female singer Duan Sisi, relentlessly criticizes evil practices in the entertainment industry. MC Lucy’s Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 277 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 “Shanghai KTV Girls” (“Shanghai K jie,” 2005) is a vitriolic denunciation of the escort girls working in KTV (Karaole TV) bars and nightclubs, who seek only to take advantage of men for their money. Although their criticism is no less forceful than that of their male counterparts, they were first introduced to the rap genre mainly by their male rapper friends. Since the males are the mentors and enlighteners, the females become identified with this male-­gendered musical form and its associated masculine ideals such as competitiveness and aggressiveness. We can discern such masculinized discourse explicitly in the song “Shanghai KTV Girls.” At the beginning of the song, the male MC niggAslim shouts in English, “This song iz from me and my sister MC Lucy, and dedicated to all da real azz hoez in SHANGHAI CITY!!” Throughout the song, the persona of the greedy, materialistic KTV girl that MC Lucy plays is a voice to be ridiculed, condemned, negated, and maligned. Trying to bring the wild girl back to social order, the female rapper thus assumes a patriarchal stance and joins in her male partner’s condemnation: “shoot all ’em bitchez.” As much as the wild girl’s own voice is silenced and obscured in MC Lucy’s song, we hear subjective female voices defining their femininity in “Yangzhou Crazy Girls” (“Yangzhou fengnüyuan,” 2006), which is sung by a group of five girls in Yangzhou Mandarin. The rappers are identified by their distinctive Net ID names, for example, duwu me wudu (poisonless skull) and shichong erjiao (spoiled and doted). By referring to themselves as fengnü in the song title, they make a self-­conscious statement that distances them from socially prescribed feminine values. The song starts with a declaration that imitates revolutionary jargon yet is couched in a nonserious tone: “Wherever there is oppression, there will be resistance. In a dark night in which you can’t see your six fingers, we finally break the feudal cage.” Although at one point in the body of the song the singers try to legitimize their gender identity by denying that of the androgynous Super Girl Li Yuchun, whom they call a lady-­boy (renyao) and later “a man,” their constructed femininity is far from conventional and orthodox. They are hedonistic and seductive; they carelessly nickname a friend’s husband “Mao Zedong’s elder brother,” “Mao Zechang” (which sounds like “Mao zhichang” in the Yangzhou dialect, meaning “has long hair on the body”); and they boldly use a plethora of local expletives and violent words, such as diao (penis, fuck) and erbixian/apiφiẽ (idiot, sick). And positions 22:1 Winter 2014 278 Life’s just like that, so why be so serious? Falling in and out of love is tiring, isn’t it? How can roosters lay eggs? Even a smuggler (Lai Changxing) can easily find a wife, even a president (Chen Shuibian) can be prosecuted for corruption Men can still be Super Girl, women can still be Emperor How can the world be so fair? No matter how heartbroken you are, won’t you still get over it? Don’t be so mad, don’t be so stuck on it Dump those useless guys; ditch those clingy girls All that “love at first sight,” “falling head over heels,” “loving with all your heart,” it’s all a fucking facade Learn from Marxist philosophy, nothing is static Let’s start the revolution, no matter what the others do or say I want to be my own destiny43 As an epitome of rap music as a contested arena, the song became highly controversial in the local community immediately after it was uploaded. Undoubtedly, the song challenges the patriarchal social order, established mainstream norms, and high official culture. As to be expected, it was mainly those cultural authorities, cultural elites, and elders who attacked the song for being decadent, profane, and vulgar.44 They were particularly upset by the girls’ use of local dirty words in a public space. This transgressive speech act was even criticized for denigrating the Yangzhou image.45 However, as Ove Sernhede argues, “One aspect of youth culture is, and always has been, the breaking of taboos.”46 The girls’ defiant attitude also won them avid patronage from hip-­hop fans like themselves. Nonetheless, the rhetoric of resistance and opposition, which is characteristic of hip-­hop music, or more generally of youth culture, often manifests complexity, complicity, and ambivalence. In demystifying the “keep-­it-­real” ethos of rap in the United States, Samuel Watkins and Imani Perry, among others, point out that as street credibility has become the selling point for corporate rap music, ironically, the hip-­hop celebrities have to stay “hood” and live out the narratives of gangster lives in order to authenticate a valo- Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 in the end, they send a “teachy but not preachy” message of a carefree, transcendent attitude toward love affairs and the arbitrary, irrational world:42 Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 279 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 rized and fabulously hyped portrait of ghetto life.47 Tricia Rose, in a more systematic way, explores some of the most crucial issues, such as violence, sexism, race, and market manipulation, in the polarized debates of resistance and oppression in US hip-­hop.48 Like any other binary framework, the resistance-­oppression dualism is dialectic and dynamic. What looks like resistance from one perspective can be viewed as oppression from another perspective. Take In 3’s “Hello Teacher” as an example: as much as this song resists the oppressive education system, the expletive-­laden verbal attack on a female schoolteacher is insulting, demeaning, and degrading toward women, reinforcing a kind of gender oppression that conforms to the notorious charges of sexism and misogyny laid against hip-­hop. Furthermore, some forms of resistance imply or breed other forms of compromise and submission. For instance, the very action of the five Yangzhou girls’ posting anonymously belies their apparent fearlessness and rebellion, although one might hail Internet anonymity for providing a platform for self-­expression. Similarly, Duan Sisi commented that she hesitated quite a while before putting her song online for fear of possible attack, until she decided to use a new Net ID. MC Lucy changed the original beat of her song “Shanghai KTV Girls” to a less harsh one after one of her friends warned her of the image issue. Such self-­censorship is not limited to female rappers, of course. Cao Shi and Wang Daye of Xi’an’s Black Head later revealed that they processed their voices to make them unrecognizable when making their widely circulated online song “Fuck Japan.” Moreover, probably because of its extreme nationalistic sentiment, this song did not appear on the band’s first released album, Wake Up Earlier than the Rooster (Qi de bi ji hai zao, 2007).49 It is quite noticeable that these songs with counterhegemonic potentials, although they made the rappers instant cyber heroes, were altered for or excluded from their debut record releases, which, compared with the largely uncensored Internet musical space, normally puts the artists under greater scrutiny. In 2002, the Little Lion, half of the Hi-­Bomb duo, uploaded a demo of “No. 1,” a song performed in Shanghai Wu that outspokenly expresses a self-­empowered swagger in filthy language. The success of the demo through downloads eventually led to the pair signing a contract with EMI.50 However, during the production of their first album A-­Yo Hi-­Bomb (Xiha di yi bang, 2004), the duo were forced to rewrite this hit “dirty” song positions 22:1 Winter 2014 280 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 more than twenty times in “clean” Putonghua, until they “eventually vented their frustrations in the form of lyrics, spouting their anger at their recording label into their music.”51 Chen Xu, after signing with a record label, deleted some of the violent, aggressive lines when preparing the “official version” of the song “The Northeast Specialty Is Not Underworld” for his album released in 2005.52 MC Sha Zhou did not include the controversial “Qingdao Bumpkins” on his first CD in 2004. In my interview with him on June 3, 2009, Sha Zhou, who was establishing a music company at the time, said he was now mature enough not to offend the public and would rather let the newer singers in his company handle sensitive themes. Although the rapper tried to maintain his artistic independence by not contracting with a record company, he consciously catered to mainstream taste by incorporating more love-­themed songs in the albums he later recorded. The compromise between rap music’s position in the marketplace and its function as a potentially counterhegemonic cultural resource is best illustrated by the story behind the first Shanghai rap album, released in 2005, an album coproduced by Sony-­BMG/Xinsuo Records and Shanghaining.com, the major institution promoting Shanghai rap at the time. Although the album is entitled Say What You Gotta Say (You sha jiang sha / you sa gang sa), the inside story is far different. The rapper SRC was asked to rewrite portions of his furious lyrics dealing with such sensitive topics as official corruption and peasant immigration in his song “I Don’t Always Feel Good” (“Wo lao fa shuang / ŋu lao vəsuang”). MC Lucy’s “Shanghai KTV Girls” underwent a more radical overhaul: the original lyrics were completely rewritten so that they described the daily life of a fun-­loving, fashionable young urbanite, and the revamped song was released with a new title, “Shanghai Cute Girls” (“Shanghai dia nannan/nønø”).53 Young Chinese artists are subject to manipulation, mediation, and (self-­) censorship by powerful mainstream tastes, capital, the state, and record companies. Their authenticity and integrity are challenged when they become involved with commercialization and institutionalization. For the nascent Chinese rap music industry, the future still looms large. Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 281 The strong social commentary and subcultural sensibility of Chinese rap draw on a generic feature of rap music as a form of resistance against authority and a vehicle for furthering social and political purposes. Another prominent feature of rap music — which, as a genre, has always been obsessed with locality and spatiality — is the articulation of a collective local identity rendered in local language and slang. As Murray Forman observes, “A highly detailed and consciously defined spatial awareness is one of the key factors distinguishing rap music and hip-­hop from the many other cultural and subcultural youth formations.”54 Prioritizing the significance of hood, ghetto, inner-­city, and posse in US rap acts, Forman examines regional differences in style, musicality, theme, and discourse between East Coast, West Coast, “Dirty South,” and Seattle rap and hip-­hop.55 Set in a different local context, Chinese local-­language rap articulates a comparably intense sense of place and locality, which functions as a local cultural resource for Chinese urban youth to construct a musicalized local identity.56 As noted, many of these songs manifest young urbanites’ pride in their home cities and celebrate their urban roots. This theme is conspicuously and abundantly evidenced in such song titles as Saliva Regiment’s “Hangzhou Is a Good Place” (“Hangzhou shi ge hao difang,” 2002/2003), MC Yil Ning’s “Made in Shanghai” (2004), Black Head’s “Shaanxi Delicious Food” (“Shaanxi meishi,” 2007), and Run Tu’s “I’m a Chongqinger” (“Wo shi Chongqingzai,” 2006). Drawing on a keen sense of what Forman calls the “extreme local,” these rap songs are replete with explicit citations and references to specific local landmarks, specialties, cuisines, trademark streets, and other cultural sites with local significance. Furthermore, as Martin Stokes points out, “the ‘places’ constructed through music involve notions of difference and social boundary.”57 If Sha Zhou constructs his superior identity as a Qingdaonese by setting up social and moral boundaries between the urban and the rural in his “Qingdao Bumpkins,” a highly privileged identity as a Shanghainese is articulated through an implicit comparison between Shanghai and the rest of the larger national community in PZ-­FRAN’s “Our Shanghai” (“Ala Shanghai,” 2004). Asserting a unique relationship between Shanghai and China, the rapper rhymes, “We’re the upper corner of China,” in which Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 Celebration of “Distinct” Local Identity and Local Community positions 22:1 Winter 2014 282 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 the local expression shangzhijiao/zãtsako (upper corner) refers to the fashionable, expensive neighborhoods in the former French Concession in western Shanghai, as contrasted with the “lower corner,” the lower-­or working-­ class neighborhoods in other parts of the city.58 In addition, defending the reputation of one’s hometown can be a strong motivation for making a rap. For instance, Chen Xu’s “The Northeast Specialty Is Not Underworld” was written in 2004 when he indignantly read a story about a number of non-­ Northeastern bandits imitating the Northeast Mandarin accent to carry out a robbery.59 From the perspective of the rapper, the song is a Northeasterner’s refutation of (non-­Northeasterners’) stereotypes of Northeasterners, no matter that the song ends up reinforcing this clichéd image. These rap songs in local languages are infused with distinctive knowledge and sensibilities that originate from the particular place in which the languages were acquired. Take two songs as examples: D-­Evil’s “Squeeze in the Packed Bus” (“Ji gongjiao,” 2007) in Nanjing Mandarin depicts a mundane urban experience of taking the bus, which is always packed, in Nanjing. Besides the use of distinctive Nanjing Mandarin words, the lyrics integrate a range of locally embedded images and sounds, for instance, the recorded voice from the machine for swiping the bus pass, the bus driver’s pet phrase to keep order, and comments on the local media celebrities who do not have to take the bus. In a similar vein, Sha Zhou’s “Hang Out in the Zhanqiao Port” (“Guang Zhanqiao,” 2004) narrates in authentic Qingdao Mandarin his one-­day experience of hanging out in a local place of interest, Zhanqiao. The lyrics draw on everyday knowledge gained through living in Qingdao, for example, taking bus number five to Zhanqiao and spoofing a 2008 Olympics propaganda song, “Welcome to Qingdao,” whose video was shown daily on the local buses. Coupled with the Qingdao Mandarin words siaomer/siaoge (the form of address for a young girl and a young fellow, respectively) and zhenjingla (damn, that is surprising), the rap elicits an instinctive emotional response, and by evoking an intimate familiarity with everyday life in the local community it offers local citizens the pleasure of recognition. These lighthearted and inoffensive rap songs celebrating locality may sound mainstream when compared with the more hard-­edged songs that carry an underground sensibility. In fact, some Western media critics, over- Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 283 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 looking Chinese rap songs that feature the latter theme, criticize Chinese rap for its absence of subversion and rebellion. For example, Ralph Frammolino uses Yin Tsang’s “In Beijing” (“Zai Beijing,” 2004) to dismiss Chinese hip-­hop as “tamed,” a genre that has become the “unofficial music of the Communist government.”60 Daniel Beekman, although recognizing the antisocial message in In 3’s lyrics, finds it puzzling that the underground band did not oppose the Beijing Olympics but rather sang the “patriotic” paean “Beijing Welcomes You Back” (“Beijing dou huanying ni huilai,” 2008), which is in line with mainstream propaganda.61 However, these opinions are misleading because they presuppose a simplistic binary framework in which youth subculture and mainstream society are in a fixed, clear-­cut oppositional relationship. It is true that sometimes young rappers have to compromise when they encounter the music industry and mainstream audiences; however, their songs of local pride may be better understood as converging and overlapping with mainstream discourse rather than surrendering to or collaborating with it. Moreover, it is important to point out that the above-­mentioned media reports citing the two songs that “glorify national pride” made a synecdochic substitution of the local for the national.62 The songs are, after all, eulogies of their home city by the youth of Beijing, and, in this sense, are no different from the hometown boosterism of urban youth in other parts of China.63 These local-­language songs are part of a larger countermovement promoting the use of local language in local media to assert the identity of a local community “as a site of distinctive cultural production, not simply as a venue for transmission of a larger, national culture.”64 This movement also seeks to reimagine distinct local communities, which have been insufficiently represented and mis-­imagined by the use of the single Standard Mandarin. Except for those controversial rap songs that may split the local community between younger and older generations, most local-­language songs celebrating locality draw another kind of boundary: they include both the youth and mainstream audiences in the local community who share the same native mother tongue, while excluding those outsiders who do not belong to the community. Therefore, these songs facilitate bonding among local audiences and thus foster a sense of local community. The commercial success of dialect songs in the local music market, which has been saturated positions 22:1 Winter 2014 284 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 with Standard Mandarin songs, testifies to the need for reimagining distinct local communities. For example, Sha Zhou’s first album sold fifteen thousand copies (RMB 15 per CD) in two weeks in Qingdao in 2004. The ringtone of the Nanjing-­Mandarin rap “Eat Wonton” (“He hundun”) was downloaded 16,252 times (RMB 0.5 per time) by local Jiangsu China Unicom users in about ten days in 2005.65 Moreover, rap songs were frequently integrated into regional media, including newspapers, thus reaching local mainstream audiences. For instance, Saliva Regiment’s “Hangzhou Is a Good Place” served as the music for the ending credits of the local hit news talk show Aliutou Talks News (Aliutou shuo xinwen, 2004 – present) rendered in Hangzhou Wu. The Shanghai local newspaper Shanghai Times (Shenji­ ang fuwu daobao) sponsored and organized local rappers who produced the single “Love Shanghai for Ninety-­Nine Times” (“Jiushijiu ci lian’ai aishang Shanghai”) in Shanghai Wu as an event to promote local identity in 2006. Dialect raps thus contribute to the formation of a soundscape that fosters a strong sense of local community and constructs a distinct local identity. Other contributors to this local-­language soundscape include telenovelas and sitcoms that tell stories about the ordinary lives of local residents, films dubbed in local languages that address the social problems of the local community and convey the popular opinions of its members, and talk shows that narrate the news of most concern and interest to local audiences.66 Nevertheless, although local-­language rap songs assert the value of pluralism and diversity and defy the characterization of China as a unified, homogeneous nation-­state, there is a problem with this construction of local identities, namely, the underlying similarities beneath their apparent distinctiveness. Take Xue Cun’s song as an example: it was so popular that it was reworked in other dialects as a way for urban youth to eulogize the Lei Feng – like good deeds of citizens in their home cities and thus to celebrate their local identities. One example is the lyrics of Ye Zhenhong’s (aka Ye Pi) Jiangsu Zhangjiagang Wu version in 2006: “We are all Zhangjiagangers. The regional specialty in our place is the Toulou pie baked in a double furnace. And wonton stuffed with Chinese chives. We are all living Lei Fengs. We don’t have such a person in our place. How can someone not help the injured after causing the accident? The people in our place have consciences. That man is not a native here!” Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 285 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 This song proved instantly popular among netizens from the singer’s hometown.67 However, its celebration of the local Zhangjiagang identity was largely achieved by simply replacing the Northeastern regional specialties named in Xue Cun’s original song with those of Zhangjiagang. In other words, local identity is constructed by way of mimicry, imitation, and derivation. Although in some instances, as Liao Ping-­hui concludes in his study of cultural criticism columns published in the literary supplements of Taiwanese newspapers, “the local can put the global into use in the form of ‘neocolonial’ mimicry, in the mode of cultural bricolage or reproduction, that helps constitute multiple lines of invention and transformation,” the local identity constructed here is problematic.68 Competition among regional community members striving to assert a local identity might belie a rising anxiety that it is becoming increasingly difficult to define locality in a dramatically globalized world. Despite the different urban narratives these rap songs construct, we can find the same or similar patterns behind many of them. For instance, rap songs that praise the rappers’ hometowns almost always list the local tourist attractions and culinary specialties. Copying and imitating each other is rampant. Or consider the song titles: there is a long list of songs with titles such as “Made in Shanghai,” “Made in Wenzhou,” “Made in Jinyun,” to name just a few. These similarities call to mind Theo­ dor Adorno’s term pseudo-­individualization, which he defines in a different context as “the stylization of the ever-­identical framework” or “the standardization of its own deviation.”69 In examining the ambiguous role played by local language in contemporary Chinese media, Edward Gunn alerts us to the fact that “the assertion of local languages in the same forms of media otherwise dominated by standard language might have suggested the voice of the subaltern in all its heterogeneity. Then again, its authenticity could be evoked only to demonstrate its own disunity, its hierarchies, its need to be rescued from its limitations or condemned for them and reeducated.”70 In the phenomenon of Chinese local-­language rap, we encounter rather the underlying “homogeneity” of “heterogeneous” local identity: one “local” is tantamount to any other, and the central distinction is between “the local” and the national standard. In this sense, the invocation of local identity may be deictic but not substantive. At this moment, the discourse of the local in mainland China is not yet a fully formed, explicitly politicized discourse positions 22:1 Winter 2014 286 Notes I am grateful to Andrew Jones, Edward Gunn, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments for the revisions. 1. The controversy over the relationship between dialect and language is a global and often politicized problem. This essay mainly uses the phrase “local languages” for the Chinese term fangyan. For a historical study of standard languages and dialects in the context of European nation building, see Eric J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Pro­ gramme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 51 – 63, 93 – 100. For the terminological dilemma faced in the Chinese linguistic context, see John DeFrancis, The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1984), 53 – 58. 2. Cui Jian’s “It’s Not That I Don’t Understand” (“Bushi wo bu mingbai,” 1987), Zang Tianshuo’s “Let’s Chat” (“Shuoshuo,” 1995), and Dou Wei’s “Advanced Animal” (“Gaoji dongwu,” 1994) are sometimes credited as being the first compositions in China to incorporate rap into a primarily rock-­music style. Yet the music critic Li Wan dismissed Cui Jian’s song, for example, as being merely a version of the traditional, folk kuaiban(shu) performance, in which the performers recite lines rhythmically to the beat of bamboo clappers that they hold. See Li Wan, “Rap, shuode xiaqu ma?” (“The Prospect of Rap in China”), Dushu (Reading) 5 (1994): 85 – 88. Similarly, an anonymous reviewer is critical of a 1994 rap mixtape for its lyrical incoherence and incomprehensibility. See “Daoban: Guoyu rap zhuanji” (“Pirated Copy: A Rap Album in the National Language”), Yinxiang shijie (Audio and Video World) 3 (1995): 18. 3. A couple of hip-­hop scholars have mentioned in passing the use of multiple dialects in Chinese rap songs, without delving into detailed analysis. For example, Jeff Chang describes this “unusual” linguistic feature in an annual “Iron Mic” rap battle in Shanghai in 2007: “One rapper spits out words in a distinctive Beijing accent, scolding the other for not speaking proper Mandarin. His opponent from Hong Kong snaps back to the beat in a trilingual Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 on regional autonomy, politics, and factionalism.71 As Stuart Hall argues, although globalization has “led to a strengthening of ‘local’ allegiances and identities within nation-­states,” what may emerge is what he calls a more “tricky version of ‘the local’ which operates within, and has been thoroughly reshaped by, ‘the global’ and operates largely within its logic.”72 Thus the “distinct” local identities that are promoted and celebrated in Chinese local-­ language rap songs may turn out to be examples of diversity within conformity, pluralism within unity, heterogeneity within homogeneity, and localization within globalization after all. Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 287 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 torrent of Cantonese, English, and Mandarin, dissing the Beijing rapper for not representing the people.” See Jeff Chang, “It’s a Hip Hop World,” Foreign Policy 163 (November/ December 2007): 58. Similarly, the Fulbright scholar Angela Steele made a brief film entitled “Language and Chinese Rap,” including interviews with several rappers, as part of her series of research reports on the Chinese hip-­hop scene mainly during 2007 and 2008, YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsZPFAjWysA (accessed May 2, 2013). 4. Jeroen de Kloet, “Cosmopatriot Contaminations,” in Cosmopatriots: On Distant Belongings and Close Encounters, ed. Jeroen de Kloet and Edwin Jurriens (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007), 133 – 53. 5. Ibid., 138 and 133, respectively. 6. Ibid., 140. 7. Ralph Frammolino, “Chinese Find a Way to Tame Hip-­Hop,” Los Angeles Times, November 13, 2004; Daniel Beekman, “Beijing Hip-­Hop Trio Hopes Olympics Will Help Pick Up the Beat,” Seattle Times, June 14, 2008. In addition, Anouska Komlosy even identifies the “socialist” agenda of a Yunnan rap band, Gumbo, without much elaboration, in her article “Yunnanese Sounds: Creativity and Alterity in the Dance and Music Scenes of Urban Yunnan,” China: An International Journal 6, no. 1 (2008): 44 – 68. 8. For a detailed discussion of the dakou generation and Chinese rock culture since the mid-­ 1990s, see Jeroen de Kloet, “Popular Music and Youth in Urban China: The Dakou Generation,” China Quarterly 183 (September 2005): 609 – 26. 9. Jimmy Wang, “Now Hip-­Hop, Too, Is Made in China,” New York Times, January 23, 2009; “The Young and the Restless in China,” Frontline, PBS, 2008, written and directed by Sue Williams, distributed by PBS Video. 10. Ian Condry, “Yellow B-­Boys, Black Culture, and Hip-­Hop in Japan: Toward a Transnational Cultural Politics of Race,” positions 15, no. 3 (2007): 637 – 69. 11. Ibid., 648. 12. An important study in this respect is Murray Forman, The ‘Hood Comes First: Race, Space, and Place in Rap and Hip-­Hop (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002). 13. Timothy Craig and Richard King, eds., Global Goes Local: Popular Culture in Asia (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2002). 14. For the politics of language in Mao’s era, see Michael Schoenhals, Doing Things with Words in Chinese Politics, Center for Chinese Studies Research Monographs 41 (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1992); Rudolf Wagner, “Zhonggong 1940 – 1953 nian jianli zhengyu zhengwen de zhengce dalüe” (“An Overview of the CCP Policies to Establish an Orthodox Language and Discourse from 1940 to 1953”), in Wenyi lilun yu tongsu wenhua (Literary Theory and Popular Culture), ed. Peng Xiaoyan (Taipei: Zhongyang Yanjiuyuan Zhongguo Wenzhe Yanjiusuo Choubeichu, 1999), 11 – 38; Fengyuan Ji, Linguistic Engineering: Language and Politics in Mao’s China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004); and Ban Wang, ed., Words and Their Stories: Essays on the Language positions 22:1 Winter 2014 288 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 of the Chinese Revolution (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2011). For a study of language and politics in contemporary China, including the distinction between everyday language and official language, see Perry Link, An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 234 – 348. For citations, Wang Shuo and Lao Xia, Meiren zeng wo menghanyao (A Beauty Presents Me with a Sleeping Potion) (Wuhan: Changjiang Wenyi Chubanshe, 2000), 209. Yu Jian, “Shige zhi she de ying yu ruan — shige yanjiu cao’an: Guanyu dangdai shige de lianglei yuyan xiangdu” (“The Hard and the Soft of the Tongue of Poetry — A Draft of Poetry Study: On Two Different Directions in the Language of Contemporary Poetry”), in Jujue yinyu: Zongpi shouji, pinglun, fangtan (Refusal of Metaphor: Brown Notebook, Criticism, Interviews) (Kunming: Yunnan Renmin Chubanshe, 2004), 137. 15. Andy Bennett, Popular Music and Youth Culture: Music, Identity, and Place (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 54. 16. Roland Robertson, Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture (London: Sage, 1992), 100; Tony Mitchell, ed., Global Noise: Rap and Hip-­Hop outside the USA (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001), 1 – 2. 17. Stuart Hall, “Culture, Community, Nation,” Cultural Studies 7, no. 3 (1993): 354. 18. Shen Wenyu, “Woguo diyizhi wangluo gequ xiaoshou chenggong” (“The First Online Song Sells Successfully”), Beijing wanbao (Beijing Evening News), February 22, 2002. 19. Chen Si and Yang Changzheng, “Qingshaonian ‘liuxingyu’ xianxiang diaocha baogao” (“Survey on Youth’s Catchy Expressions”), Zhongguo qingnian yanjiu (China Youth Study) 2 (2003): 55 – 63. 20. Li Rui, “Wangluo shidai de fangyan” (“Local Language in the Age of the Internet”), Dushu (Reading) 4 (2000): 42 – 47. 21. Ibid., 44. 22. Zhang Ning, “Cuihua, gei beida shang suancai” (“Cuihua, Serve the Pickled Cabbage to Beijing University”), Baixing (Common People) 5 (2002). Page numbers are unavailable. 23. “ ‘Laobazi’ ge renao Qingdaoren, Qingdao fazhan zenke wangji dagongzhe” (“The ‘bumpkin’ Song Angered Qingdaonese; How Can We Forget the Migrant Workers in Developing Qingdao?”), Qingdao chenbao (Qingdao Morning News), August 26, 2004. 24. Pop music in mainland China has been heavily influenced by Cantopop from Hong Kong and Mandopop from Taiwan, so the language rendered in the pop songs would be more accurately described as Standard Mandarin with a gangtai accent, imitating Cantonese-­ accented Mandarin and Taiwan Mandarin. 25. Jiang Hui, “Women huijiang xiha jinxing daodi” (“Take Hip-­Hop to the End: Interview with Hi-­Bomb Band by www.tom.com”), July 30, 2004, Tudou.com, www.tudou.com/programs /view/fOc7HZyVq8s/ (accessed May 2, 2013). 26. Li, interview with the author, June 23, 2009. 27. Timothy Brace, “Popular Music in Contemporary Beijing: Modernism and Cultural Iden- Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 289 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 tity,” Asian Music 22, no. 2 (1991): 43 – 66; Andrew F. Jones, Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music (Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1992); Nimrod Baranovitch, China’s New Voices: Popular Music, Ethnicity, Gender, and Poli­ tics, 1978 – 1997 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). 28. Baranovitch, China’s New Voices, 10 – 18. 29. I owe the idea of comparing Standard Mandarin pop songs and local-­language rap songs to Edward Gunn’s comments. Nevertheless, the two musical genres are not mutually exclusive. The general distinction discussed here does not imply that love songs cannot be subversive or resistant, as some love songs can be read allegorically or symbolically, and their significance thus cannot be simply confined to love. Moreover, as this essay suggests, besides lyrical content, the difference in their subversive potentials may also have to do with the location and distribution of the songs, as the former are usually distributed in the world of mass-­ marketed, mainstream pop for a broad audience while the latter are mainly circulated on the Internet among a niche audience. 30. Sun, interview with the author, May 30, 2009. 31. Li, interview with the author, June 23, 2009. 32. Sha Zhou, MC Sha Zhou (Jinan: DIY, distributed by Qilu Yinxiang Chubanshe, 2004). 33. Chen, interview with Angela Steele, “Hip Hop in China: Chinese Education and Hip Hop,” YouTube video, 2008, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6H7xprfQbAU (accessed May 2, 2013). 34. In 3, Unknown Artists (Weizhi yishujia) (DIY, 2008). 35. Chen provided an interesting account of his band’s trademark use of expletives in their interview with HipHop.cn: the curse words function as an interjection (yuqi) rather than as a content word (yuyan), “In 3: women laizi dixia” (“In 3: We Come from Underground”), www.blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_4d1296c20100c9ri.html (accessed May 2, 2013). This is similar to how Angel Lin interprets the use of chou-­hau (vulgar speech) in MC Yan’s Cantonese rap song “War Crime.” See Lin, “Respect for Da Chopstick Hip Hop: The Politics, Poetics, and Pedagogy of Cantonese Verbal Art in Hong Kong,” in Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Cultures, Youth Identities, and the Politics of Language, ed. H. Samy Alim et al. (New York: Routledge, 2008), 168. 36. Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, ed. John B. Thompson (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991). 37. Also in this sense, the use of Chinese local language is in conformity with the use of “English from below” in hip-­hop discourse. As Bent Preisler defines it, in contrast to “English from above,” which is officially promoted and institutionally transmitted, English from below is acquired via noninstitutional channels and is motivated by “the desire to symbolize subcultural identity or affiliation, and peer group solidarity.” See Preisler, “Functions and Forms of English in a European EFL Country,” in Standard English: The Widening Debate, ed. Tony Bex and Richard J. Watts (London: Routledge, 1999), 247. positions 22:1 Winter 2014 290 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 38. This term is borrowed from Eric Ma, who uses it to explore subcultural social formations in his case study of the Hong Kong rap band LMF (LazyMuthaFucka). See Ma, “Emotional Energies and Subcultural Politics in Post-­97 Hong Kong,” Inter-­A sia Cultural Studies 3, no. 2 (2002): 187 – 90. 39. Chen, interview with Angela Steele, “Hip Hop in China: What Is Hip Hop,” YouTube video, 2008, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruZlPU7ESvc (accessed May 2, 2013). 40. Zhang Lei, “Chang ‘Jian’erfan’ de nageren” (“Interview with Dong Lei, the Person Who Sang ‘A Mooched Meal’ ”), Hangzhou ribao (Hangzhou Daily), February 26, 2005. 41. As early as 1995, an anonymous critic commented on the only female rap song on a rap mixtape, He Jing’s “Women’s Street” (“Nürenjie”), as “feeling like a witch chanting incantations,” which implies, according to Baranovitch, “that it is a rare and abnormal phenomenon that should not exist at all” (China’s New Voices, 157). 42. The phrase “teachy but not preachy” is borrowed from Imani Perry, Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 62, in which she cites from Henry L. Gates’s The Signifying Monkey the other seven features of “signifyin(g),” a prominent rhetorical trope in the African American literary tradition as well as in hip-­hop narrative. 43. I thank Shawn (Shuang) Kong for his help with translating the lyrics of this song, as well as the songs previously discussed, “Hello Teacher” and “A Mooched Meal.” 44. Xu Qing, “Yangzhou MM: Women zhishi ziyuzile” (“Yangzhou Girls: What We Did Was Just for Fun”), Yangzhou wanbao (Yangzhou Evening News), July 27, 2006. 45. Shun Chao and Song Yuan, “Shouzhi Yangzhou fangyan RAP gequ rebo, Yangzhou jida wangzhan yin zhengyi” (“The First Hit Yangzhou Dialect Rap Stirred Controversy Online”), Yangzhou shibao (Yangzhou Times), July 25, 2006. 46. Ove Sernhede, “Exoticism and Death as a Modern Taboo: Gangsta Rap and the Search for Intensity,” in Without Guarantees: In Honour of Stuart Hall, ed. Paul Gilroy et al. (London: Verso, 2000), 306. 47. Samuel Craig Watkins, Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement (Boston: Beacon Press, 2005), 2 – 3; Perry, Prophets of the Hood, 90 – 95. 48. Tricia Rose, The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop — And Why It Matters (New York: BasicCivitas, 2008). 49. Black Head, Qi de bi ji hai zao (Wake Up Earlier than the Rooster) (Xi’an: Shiyin Records, 2007). 50. BBC News, “Web Demo Launches Hip-­Hop in China,” March 8, 2005, www.news.bbc .co.uk/go/pr/fr/-­/2/hi/entertainment/4329531.stm (accessed May 2, 2013). 51. Wendy Liu, “Cultural Spotlight: Hip-­Hopping,” posted on the City Weekend Web site on December 4, 2006, www.old.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/articles/cw-­magazine/reviews /Review_HipHop/ (accessed May 2, 2013). 52. Chen Xu, Chen Xu VS huaping (Chen Xu VS Vase) (Guangzhou: Feile Records, 2005). Liu ❘ Chinese Local-­Language Rap Music 291 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 53. Leiqing Chen, founder and CEO of the SHN Web site, interview with the author, May 30, 2009. 54. Forman, ‘Hood Comes First, 3. 55. Ibid., particularly 173 – 212. 56. Regarding regional flavors, the Chinese dialect rap is different from the dialect rap of southern Italy, which mainly draws on local traditional folk songs and instrumentation. See Tony Mitchell, “Fightin’ da Faida: The Italian Posses and Hip-­Hop in Italy,” in Global Noise, ed. Mitchell, 194 – 221. These rap songs are also different from the Chinese dialect rock songs. Whereas migrant rock musicians largely employ the musicality of local languages and the folk tunes to signify a marginal, outsider identity, urban rappers make substantial use of a distinctive local vocabulary in their lyrics to articulate a privileged local identity that celebrates their urban roots. More importantly, the rock musicians tend to appropriate indigenous regional folk music and folk tunes to represent a “national” Chinese music, yet Chineseness per se is rarely an issue of concern for the hip-­hop generation. See Jin Liu, “Signifying the Local: Media Productions Rendered in Local Languages in Mainland China since 2000” (PhD diss., Cornell University, 2008), 115 – 25. 57. Martin Stokes, ed., Ethnicity, Identity, and Music: The Musical Construction of Place (Oxford: Berg, 1994), 3. 58. Luo Xiaowei and Wu Jiang, eds., Shanghai longtang (Shanghai Alley), (Shanghai: Shanghai Renmin Meishu Chubanshe, 1997), 3. 59. Zhao Yuqing, “Chen Xu: ‘Dongbei techan bushi heishehui’ wei dongbeiren zhengming” (“Chen Xu’s ‘The Northeast Specialty Is Not Underworld’ Provides Justification for Northeasterners”), Heilongjiang ribao (Heilongjiang Daily), March 30, 2005. 60. Frammolino, “Chinese Find a Way.” 61. Beekman, “Beijing Hip-­Hop Trio.” 62. Frammolino, “Chinese Find a Way.” 63. Historically speaking, the paradoxical presentation of the national in terms of the local was a common interpretive mode on the issue of Chinese folk songs and nationalism. For example, Gu Jiegang and other folklorists in the early 1920s believed local folk songs were carriers of authentic national cultures. See Chang-­tai Hung, Going to the People: Chinese Intellectuals and Folk Literature 1918 – 1937 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 17. The leftist filmmakers in the 1930s, in their efforts to “sinify” the Chinese cinema, frequently rearranged and rewrote regional folk songs to signify Chineseness. See Yueh-­yu Yeh, “Historiography and Sinification: Music in Chinese Cinema of the 1930s,” Cinema Journal 41, no. 3 (2002): 78 – 97. 64. Edward Gunn, Rendering the Regional: Local Language in Contemporary Chinese Media (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006), 204. 65. Yang Yude, “Cailing: Lirun jingren de fukuang” (“Ringtones: A Rich Mine with Astonishing Profit”), Jiangsu shangbao ( Jiangsu Business News), August 24, 2005. positions 22:1 Winter 2014 292 Downloaded from http://read.dukeupress.edu/positions/article-pdf/22/1/263/317424/pos221_10Liu_FF.pdf by University of California Santa Barbara user on 25 August 2022 66. Liu, “Signifying the Local,” 12 – 78. 67. Qian Chaoxin and Wu Hui, “Wangluo geshou Ye Pi wangshang changhong Zhangjiagang fangyan ge” (“Internet Singer Ye Pi’s Hit Zhangjiagang Dialect Songs”), Xinhua News, November 24, 2006, www.js.xinhuanet.com/zjg/2006 – 11/24/content_8609045.htm (accessed May 2, 2013). 68. Ping-­hui Liao, “The Case of the Emergent Cultural Criticism Columns in Taiwan’s Newspaper Literary Supplements,” in Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary, ed. Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 344. 69. Theodor W. Adorno, “On Popular Music,” in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, 4th ed., ed. John Storey (Harlow, UK: Pearson, 2009), 68–69. 70. Gunn, Rendering the Regional, 208. 71. For these elaborations, I owe much to Andrew Jones’s inspiring comments. 72. Hall, “Culture, Community, Nation,” 354.
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Reading Response
The reading and the podcast highlight the impact caused by two different music genres on
the music creators and the audiences. The text "Alternative Voice and Local Youth Identity in
Chinese Local-Language Rap Music” by Jin Liu focuses on rap music in China and how local
languages have helped young Asian rappers achieve diversity and individualism. On the other
hand, the "Songs that Cross Borders” podcast by Radiolab discusses the springing popularity of country music
globally. The podcast reali...

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