Cui Jian’s concert on the square


Photo from Rock and Roll on the New Long March, March 1989

A young, Nanjing-based musician recently uploaded a bootleg of a 24-minute, four-song set that Cui Jian and his band played back in 1989:

A rare old recording. Maybe people have seen Cui go to the Square in that three-hour documentary, but they don’t know what came afterward. This recording was given to me by a friend in Beijing. It’s not something just anyone is able to find, and I’m the first to release it. What a rare thing! There are four songs altogether: “Once Again From the Top” (从头再来), Rock and Roll on the New Long March” (新长征路上的摇滚), “Like a Knife” (像一把刀子), and “A Piece of Red Cloth” (一块红布). It seems like Eddie’s guitar is missing; he probably didn’t go.

According to what Cui says in the clip, this was his third visit to the Square, but the first time they played.

There’s a little bit of a tuning problem at the start, but then things get going with an energetic concert that has the listeners singing along to “Once Again From the Top” and “Rock and Roll on the New Long March” (both from the album Rock and Roll on the New Long March). After the second song, there’s a bit of disagreement over whether they should be playing at all: one voice is concerned about the state of the hunger strikers.

The crowd disagrees, Cui says, “Most of the hunger strikers are over here, and I’ve got to be responsible to them.” Then the band launches into “Like a Knife” (which, like the fourth song, was included on the 1991 album Solution, 解决).

Before the next song, voices in the crowd reassure the band that they’re OK with the boisterous music. Cui says, “If there’s one student who doesn’t want me to perform, I won’t; it’s about the safety of every person…..I came with about a 20% hope of performing, and 80% of just coming to see you all.”

There are shouted requests for the fourth song, “A Piece of Red Cloth.” Prior to singing, Cui reads off the first verse, and people in the crowd call for everyone who has a piece of red cloth to put it on.

* * *

Fang Kecheng, a Beijing-based blogger who linked to the recording, recently wrote about a contestant on this year’s Super Girls talent competition who sang another Cui Jian song, “Nothing to My Name”:

Super Girls: Destructing Cui Jian

A rare clip of Cui Jian has been circulating online recently. Perhaps many youth today are still trying to understand Cui Jian, trying to take their hearts and minds back to the exciting 1980s, but even more of today’s youth don’t know what Cui Jian really means.

In last week’s Super Girls competition, Huang Ying, who usually sings mountain folk songs and “red” songs (leading to the natural thought: for the party’s ears), sang Cui Jian’s “Nothing to My Name.” This was truly an unexpected choice. Maybe it was purely out of consideration for her voice and singing style, and she was given a song that would let her show off. I at least cannot believe that entertain-or-die Hunan TV would have had anything else in mind.

So the curtain rose on a scene fraught with symbolism: Huang Ying, accustomed to performing things like “A 10th Blessing for the Red Army” (十送红军) entirely dispelled the significance of “Nothing to My Name”. Even though ELLE‘s Xiao Xue said, after the performance ended, “It’s not easy for someone Huang Ying’s age to understand the background, frame of mind, and mood this song had back then. A generation of people sang along with this song and danced to it.” But it seemed like this widely-detested woman’s words fell on deaf ears: no one cared what she had to say, but everyone was just waiting for her to shut up and cast her vote for someone.

Twenty years ago, Cui Jian sang and turned red songs indecent (红歌黄唱); twenty years later, a Super Girl turned an indecent song red (黄歌红唱). Twenty years ago, Cui Jian tried to use rock music to dispel things, destroy things, and also to build some things; twenty years later, Cui Jian has been dispelled by entertainment, rock music has been dispelled by entertainment, everything has been dispelled by entertainment. Twenty years ago, people sang and danced on the square, choked with emotions. Twenty years later, everyone waits in front of the television every Friday night in a frenzy to see which girl will win a singing competition.

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