For Chinese musicians, topics like flatulence, Taiwanese girls and suicide are out. Songs that respect so-called “social morality” are in. Or else.
China’s Ministry of Culture this week issued a blacklist of 120 songs — including titles such as “Don’t Want to Go to School,” “All Must Die” and “Fart” — and demanded that websites remove them within 15 days or face “severe punishment.”
Notably, many of the songs were written by underground hip-hop groups, suggesting that Beijing has turned its eye on subcultures that it previously deemed too small or marginal to warrant much interest.
The statement said that the listed songs “trumpeted obscenity, violence and crime, or harmed social morality.“ Although few were outright political, many touched on topics that the ruling Communist Party considers taboo (mainly sex).
“We have compiled a blacklist of these 120 songs which violated the rules, to further strengthen the regulation of online culture market in a targeted way,” said Liu Qiang, deputy director of the ministry’s Market Department, according to the statement released Monday.
The songs also will be banned at karaoke bars and live performances, according to the statement. The list, it added, would be updated regularly.
Jeroen Groenewegen-Lau, the director of a music discussion group in Beijing, said that the authorities have long censored songs that they found objectionable.
“But in the past they wouldn’t give any explanation, any announcement at all — they’d try to be as low key as possible,” he said. “Now they feel they have a strong enough case to say publicly, ‘These songs are not OK.’”
Handpicked by the Los Angeles Times’ Beijing bureau, here are five of the blacklist’s greatest hits as they appear on YouTube. Some include potentially disturbing images and coarse language, for the most part in Mandarin.
The list’s first 17 songs are all by In3, a Beijing-based underground hip hop group with a devoted local following. One of the group’s best-known tracks, “Beijing Evening News” offers up a scathing critique of the capital’s injustice and inequality. Standout lines include:
“Beijing Evening News: some sleep in underpasses, while others use public funds to pay for banquets”
“Beijing Evening News: when you’re sick, you need to take medication, but the medical bills are too high and nobody will cover you.”
One venue manager who had planned a live In3’s performance for later this month told theTimes that he was unsure whether it could proceed as scheduled.
Yet the group doesn’t seem too perturbed by its renegade status: “We’re numbers one through 17 ... !” it wrote in a social media post just after the announcement.
Despite Beijing-based rap duo Xinjiekou’s rough-and-tumble appearance — lead singer Zhang Han’s gray hoodie and baseball cap call to mind Eminem — the group has enjoyed more mainstream success than In3.
Not that they wear it on their sleeves. Here are the first few lines from their 2013 song “Suicide Diary”:
“Once upon a time I tried to use a blade to end this ... life.
I even hate my parents who brought me into this world.
The desire to become a corpse has overcome everything”
Zhang said in a phone interview that he planned to stop performing his blacklisted songs.
“We want to capture a certain attitude in our music, but we don’t want to violate any of the cultural authorities’ demands,” he said. “From now on, we’d like to focus on spreading more positive energy.”
At first listen, this song sounds like an innocent ditty telling the story of a “grass mud horse” battling “river crabs” in the “Ma Le Desert.” In fact, it’s a pointed anti-censorship anthem — each of these places and characters, pronounced just a bit differently, becomes a euphemism for censorship or a vulgar slur. The song was posted online in 2009 and quickly went viral; its author remains anonymous.
In this hit 2006 single, 37-year-old Taiwanese rap artist MC Hotdog lists the many things he must accomplish to successfully court a Taiwanese girl, such as installing a pole-dancing pole in his home and funding trips to China’s Hainan island.
“Put your hands in the air, throw your bra over here,” he raps.
Taiwanese American DJ Luo Baiji, also known as DJ Jerry, was born in Los Angeles and moved to Taiwan after he graduated from high school. This song is an English-Chinese bilingual ode to the female rear.
Miley Cyrus videos, it should be noted, remain on Chinese video-sharing sites, for the moment censorship-free.
Tommy Yang in the Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report
Follow @jrkaiman on Twitter for news out of China