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Youth Rock to a New Beat of Optimism

If music is the pulse of a nation, the mildly punkish "I'm Made in China" performed at a recent Guangzhou concert by female rocker Ai Jing speaks volumes.


Ai Jing and her favorite guitar.


"I'm made in China -- they say that China's really backward; I'm made in China -- they say that China's getting better..." go the lyrics.


A quarter of a century into China's era of reform, popular music -- and the youth who listen to it -- are
caught between a weighty past rife with poverty and political upheaval and a future that looks brighter with each passing day.


The mix of soul searching and optimism are evident in the music, with artists combining upbeat tunes with a wide range of styles, from love songs to hip-hop.


"There's a sense of confidence and optimism," said Harry Hui, president of Vivendi Universal's Asia label, one of the many major international music companies now in China. "There's a sense they're entitled to economic prosperity and a bright future."


The new upbeat sound contrasts sharply with grittier, moodier sounds from a previous generation caught up in the rapid changes of China's early reform period, industry watchers say.


The new sound was on display at the recent concert in the southern city of Guangzhou, whose line-up featured Ai Jing alongside some of the biggest names on the Chinese music scene.


"Now everyone is optimistic, the economy is good and the pace of life is fast," said Sun Nan, one of China's most recognized singers who also performed at the concert.


"The last generation represented a certain time, a certain set of circumstances. We don't share the same way of looking at things," he said.




Sun acknowledged that some of his music was patriotic, even romantic. But he said the optimism in his music was one of its biggest draws.


MTV's first Chinese on-air host.


"They like the music, the beat," he said. "Now Chinese people are saying that things are very good and it's getting better. There's no need to compare us with the U.S. and France. People like China."


In a country where increasing Westernization has engendered a faster, more stressful pace of life, another unifying musical theme has been the need to relax as well.


"Young people now are in a very competitive society -- the rhythms are fast. Everything has to be more direct, not subtle," said Li Xia, one of MTV's first Chinese on-air hosts, or "VJs."


Accordingly, many young people are looking to the new music as a release from those pressures, said Li Yifei, managing director of MTV Networks China.


The most recognized pop singer, Sun Nan.


"You can sense that people are living under pressure," she said. "The songs that are popular are the ones that are telling them that you have to take life easy, you have to enjoy life and know when to relax."


The concert was sponsored by music channel MTV, a unit of media giant Viacom Inc, itself a newcomer this year to the mass China TV market.


MTV's China launch would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, and is testament to how far the nation's music industry has come with its opening to foreign styles.


Most major Western labels are now present in China, including Universal and the music divisions of Time Warner and Sony. But they acknowledge rampant piracy makes business difficult.


(People’s Daily November 29, 2003)


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