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China's Rock Music Rolling Towards Acceptance
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While crowds of Chinese gather in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to celebrate the people's republic's 57th birthday, thousands of young Chinese have been flocking to the capital's western suburbs to worship rock and roll.

It is rare for the government to sponsor a rock music festival, and this one will rock usually quiet western Beijing for seven days in a row – a huge army of 77 bands has been invited to play at the outdoor venue.

The festival begins at 2:30 every afternoon of the National Day Holiday, but things really hot up when night falls in International Sculpture Park. The sound is sometimes so deafening it can be heard in nearby Babaoshan Cemetery where many of the country's founding fathers and revolutionary martyrs lie in peace.

"Rock it up, friends, to beat the cool night!" Ying Peng, vocalist of the power metal band Ordnance, yelled at 2,000 fans standing in front of the stage, as he performed the band's famous number "Struggle."

The crowd exploded. People shouted, jumped and danced. Some firmly gave the middle-finger salute, and some splashed cups of beer into the air.

China may be taking the world economy by storm, but its cultural sector is developing quite slowly. Rock, the western-born music style which has nurtured scores of Chinese bands, is still struggling for acceptance 20 years after entering the country.

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The music, viewed as angry and rebellious, was scorned by most Chinese whose traditional culture values obedience and hierarchy more than freedom.

"China's rock and roll needs to fight. We need to fight with people who never listen to rock music but criticize it a lot, and fight with people who try to get in to rock concerts for free," the skinny but energetic Beijing native Ying shouted to the screaming crowd.

In the capital Beijing, less than five clubs host regular rock performances. Outdoor festivals are therefore a rare opportunity for rock bands to be heard.

"Rock is still a sensitive topic in China," said Jing Ziye, chief organizer of the festival. He said the government's authorization of the outdoor concert was "extremely difficult to obtain" as officials fear excited crowds will cause social instability.

Jing said it is the first rock concert directly sponsored by the government with 360 police and safety guards present for each day's performances. Performances have to end by 10 PM.

Despite all the difficulties, the rockers seem to be making progress. Their music is increasingly popular with young people.

People attending the Beijing festival are mostly in the 20s. Many dress up in typical punk fashion with spikes, chains, and Mohawk style haircuts. The less frenetic fans also wear T-shits with pictures of rock bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead and domestic groups.

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Cheng Xiang, a 20-year-old from the central province of Henan, said he had a tough train ride and slept only one hour on his way to Beijing. He paid 280 yuan (US$35) for a seven-day ticket to the festival.

"How can we stay home and listen to rock music downloaded from the Internet all the time? I think we should move and act out the rocker life," Cheng said in a weak voice that had not recovered from the cold.

During the performances, he took part in nearly every crowd-surf and pogo, a free-style dance often seen in punk concerts where dancers can occasionally go offbeat and collide with others. "We don't hurt each other. Energetic, aggressive, but still friendly – that is the character of today's rock fans," Cheng said.

Rock has been bubbling away in China for 20 years but it has not yet reached its prime, said Jing, who is also a director of China Performing Arts Agency, China's major art performance promotion company.

He said at present rock has little commercial viability in China, but the potential is great.

"Holding a concert like this is not profitable," said Jing, adding that they have no company sponsors and need to sell tickets worth at least 600,000 yuan per day, which is not easy with a daily audience of only 3,000 people on average.

But he is hopeful about rock's future. "You see, there are so many young people coming to the festival. Rock will eventually become popular, it's just a question of time."

The government seems to be aware of the trend too, because it has given the green light to more outdoor rock concerts over the past few months. Three large outdoor rock festivals have been held in Beijing alone since May.

In hosting the festival, Jing said he wanted to promote rock music among ordinary Chinese and build trust with the government so that he can convince them that rock and roll is "not as dangerous as most people think," he said.

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(Xinhua News Agency October 6, 2006)

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