Cui Jian, a 25-year-old trumpet player with a Beijing symphony orchestra, began giving public performances last May as the lead singer, composer and guitar player for a new Chinese rock 'n' roll band.
On ordinary working days, Cui continued to play Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. But on his days off, along with other musicians from the symphony, he began singing before crowds of 10,000 or more people in the stadiums of Beijing and Shanghai, developing a broad following among young people in general and students in particular.
His songs were a blend of old and new, Western and Chinese. His best-known tune, "I've Got Nothing to My Name," was a standard lover's lament. Yet he also paid obeisance to Communist Party tradition by adapting old revolutionary anthems to rock music and by composing a song wittily entitled "Rock-and-Roll on the Long March"--a reference to the epic flight of Communist armies from encircling Nationalists in 1934-35.
Now Cui's rock career seems to have reached a dead end, stymied by official disapproval.
"We have been forbidden to give public performances," he said in a recent interview. Moreover, he said, officials of his symphony informed him last month that he was being dismissed from his regular job.
A spokesman for Cui's work unit, the Beijing Song and Dance Ensemble, denied that Cui had been dismissed.
"Actually, we have not fired him," the spokesman said. "What we have done is to suggest that he change his job."
Cui's fate and that of his rock band mirror the course of Chinese cultural life over the past year. Last spring was a time of experimentation and opening up, but now the old limits and controls have been reimposed.
Since the government began its campaign against "bourgeois liberalization" at the beginning of the year, political leaders have insisted that the effort is being strictly confined within ideological circles of the Communist Party and will not affect the lives of ordinary Chinese.
Avoiding Earlier Mistakes
Conservative leaders spearheading the campaign have been taking great pains to avoid the mistakes of an earlier drive, three years ago, against what was called "spiritual pollution," another code phrase for Western influence. The previous campaign produced a quick backlash when zealous local officials began requiring people to shorten their hair and to stop wearing Western fashions.
The current crackdown is focused much more on politics than on daily life. Writers, university professors, party officials, journalists and theoreticians are under pressure to reaffirm their commitment to Marxism, socialism and the rule of the Communist Party. People not involved in such sensitive jobs often say the recent political changes have had little impact on them.
On the streets, Chinese continue to wear the Western clothing and make-up that five years ago would have been considered too daring. In most offices and factories, life goes on as usual.
"We workers, we don't hear anything about this bourgeois liberalization," an oil-industry worker from Canton said on the train to Beijing not long ago. "It just goes on in the higher echelons of politics. As long as we keep on working on production, we can do whatever we want with our private lives."
Nevertheless, the political campaign against bourgeois liberalization within the party has brought with it a climate that discourages innovation in culture, art and daily life.
Articles in the official Chinese press these days regularly exhort the nation to uphold traditional Chinese values. Those things considered overly Western are sometimes criticized as out of character for China.
The press campaign affects even such seemingly mundane institutions as supermarkets. Early in March, the party newspaper People's Daily reported that many supermarkets are facing financial difficulties. In an accompanying commentary, the paper explained that supermarkets, "which originated and are still booming in developed countries, might not be suitable for China because of different conditions and circumstances."
In more sensitive matters of daily life, such as dating, dancing and music, the authorities have been taking steps aimed at steering young people away from what are perceived to be Western styles and mores.
The People's Daily quoted a leader of the All-China Women's Federation as saying that the campaign against bourgeois liberalization should combat propaganda favoring premarital sex and a concentration on sexual themes in art or literature.
In an effort to define the "demarcation line in our anti-liberalization drive," the Ministry of Culture issued a circular making it clear that public dance halls and commercial ballrooms will be allowed to operate.
"Dancing is good for enlivening the people's cultural life," said Jiao Yongfu of the ministry's Bureau of Social Culture. " . . . If approved by the relevant responsible cultural department, both Chinese and foreign guests may also dance together."
But Jiao also stressed that the dancers' movements and music must be "civilized and wholesome. . . . We do not allow any obscene and sexy performances, such as strip-tease and snuggling-up dances."
The city of Canton recently published a circular that specified that bikinis may not be worn by anyone taking part in dancing or other cultural performances.
When it comes to pop music, the authorities here seem willing to continue allowing some foreign groups to perform in China, as they have been for several years. Japanese pop star Hideki Saijo has just given performances in Beijing and Canton.
New Movement Promoted
But in Shenzhen, the special economic zone adjacent to Hong Kong, the regime has been promoting a new "socialist ideology" youth movement called Dajia Le (For Everyone) as a counterweight to the influence of Hong Kong and Taiwan singers.
"Anyone can get up and perform as long as the contents are healthy," the official Shanghai cultural newspaper Wen Hui Bao said.
The new movement embraces traditional songs, revolutionary songs and folk and minority dancing and singing.
"The Japanese, the Westerners, they can go to Workers' Stadium (the Beijing stadium where pop music concerts are held)," Cui Jian, the rock musician, said. "But if Chinese groups play there, the police will come."
Cui and his band began playing rock 'n' roll last year at a series of benefit concerts for such causes as the International Peace Year and the restoration of Beijing's Marco Polo Bridge.
One of Cui's rock songs was dedicated to the 800-year-old bridge, which was described by Marco Polo and which 50 years ago was the scene of a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops at the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War.
Resisted by Old Officials
Cui acknowledged that his efforts to blend Western rock 'n' roll with the party's revolutionary traditions have run into resistance from older party officials. He said that in January his band was cut at the last moment from the list of entertainers at a Beijing concert aimed at raising money for the 1990 Asian Games, though a spokesman for the propaganda department of the Beijing Municipal Committee said he knew nothing about a ban on Cui's music.
"The authorities don't understand this kind of music," Cui said. "The words are very respectful of the leaders and their undertaking. But when you combine the style and the music, they refuse to accept it."
Cui said officials at the Beijing Song and Dance Ensemble told him it would be "good for his career" to leave the symphony and become a full-time pop singer. But the spokesman for the ensemble, acknowledging that Cui had been advised to look for another job, nevertheless maintained that no final decision has been made on his future.
"Comrade Cui Jian has worked very hard, and he is a good comrade," the spokesman said. "But since he got interested in pop music, he more and more concentrated his attention on pop music, rather than the work of the orchestra."