My Family History

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            The Music Of Mainland China - Since 1949

On October 1st, 1949, the People's Republic of China was formed. The communist government denounced and suppressed popular music as Yellow Music, a form of pornography. The China Record Corporation became the only music recording company in China, and Minyue (National Music) and revolutionary music were the only types of music recorded there. Most singers and musicians relocated to Hong Kong, Malaysia etc, and Pathé Records also moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong. Mainland China remained this way until Deng Xiaoping (22/08/1904 -19/02/97) came to power and instituted the open door policy in 1978 which allowed cultural products from Hong Kong and Taiwan to enter China.

Not all of China's great singers had left their Homeland. With China's great Opera and Soprano tradition, the government encouraged this musical form to continue and develop, alongside the revolutionary and patriotic music. The "The Four Chinese sopranos" had stayed,  to both continue their singing, and to teach the new generations at the great music institutions. Yu Yixuan born in Pingxiang City (06/09/09 - 01/2008) continued serving and teaching music in the highest establishments in China. Also known as Louise Kwan, she travelled the world to study music further and to give performances. A true ambassador of music. Her recordings of In That Distant Place in the 1940s, and of Love Song of Kangding in 1949 remain, for me, the definitive recordings of these two classic songs.

Lang Yuk Sau, like Louise, served both her country and her musical vocation equally well. She also lived a life of longevity, born in Shanghai on November 4, 1918 and reaching ninety-three before her passing on July 7, 2012 at the West China Hospital, Sichuan University. Italian tenor, Gigli, was one of her many admirers. Her following words were typical of such wonderful musical ambassadors. "I am over sixty, and energy does not allow me solo concert. I would like to spend more time on translation and summary of concerts and teaching; to leave something of value to future generations, and music, but I'll never say goodbye to music." She was still teaching up until her illness and passing.

 "They made me a lifetime professor, so I will teach until the end of my life," said Zhou Xiaoyan, once described by The New York Times as "China's First Lady of Opera". She was true to her word, and lived until March 4 this year 2016. Born in Wuhan, Hubei in 1917, she entered Shanghai Guoli Professional Training School in 1935, majoring in vocal music. However, in 1937, owing to the Sino-Japan War and the bombing of the school, she had to quit. In 1938, she went to France, and entered the Paris Russia Conservatory of Music. Seven years later, she finally stood on the stage of Paris National Opera. On her very first performance, her outstanding skills and beautiful voice conquered the French audience. The Cultural Revolution was the darkest period in her life. She could neither sing nor take ordinary teaching jobs. But her deep love of her vocation carried her through. She set up the Zhou Xiaoyan Opera Center in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in May 1988. Zhou was one of the pioneers of the coloratura technique.

The artists above are: Huang Youkui, Yu Yixuan, Cai Shao Xù, Gezhao Zhi, Zhou Xiaoyan, Yuk Sau Lang, Wei Qixian, Gāo Zhīlán, Zang Yuyan, Zhengxing Li, Zhang, Li Juan, Sun Jiaxin, Wu Ball 

The fourth of China's Great Sopranos was Huang Youkui (03/04/1908-01/09/1990) She was born in Xiang Tan, Hunan, and attended the Department of Biology, Soochow University, Suzhou from 1927. She graduated from the American University of Alabama in 1933. She served as the vocal music professor, Director of the Music Department and Vice President of Nanjing University of the Arts. In 1953, she was elected Chairman of the Chinese Musicians Association, Jiangsu branch, and later she became the executive director of the Chinese Musicians Association. Like her three soprano colleagues, Huang devoted her life to teaching music as well as performing it with skill and eloquence. All four Chinese Nightingales travelled beyond China to perfect their knowledge and skills, but they always returned to their Motherland. 

A younger generation of singers came to prominence during the Cultural Revolution, singing patriotic songs and helping New China to continue its cultural heritage. Among these was Guo Lanying  who was born in December 1930 in Lok Hong village, Pingyao County. She was a gifted actress and opera singer, excelling in musicals during her teens. In April 1949, she participated with the Chinese youth delegation in Hungary, singing "Women's Freedom Song" at the World Youth Student Peace and Friendship Festival. Following the Chinese Revolution, Guo became the chief performer in the Song and Dance Theatre of the Central Conservatory of Music, Central Experimental Opera, and China Opera House. She played the leading roles in many new operas, including The White Haired Girl and The Marriage of Little Er Hei. In the 1960s she appeared in the film The East Is Red. As a messenger of Chinese art, she visited many countries. She said farewell to the stage in 1982, and in 1986, she set up the Guo Lanying Art School in Guangdong. Songs such as "My Motherland" (1956) and "Seeing the Red Army Off to the Long March Northward" endeared her to the nation.

Guo Shuzhen, 郭淑珍, born on June 1, 1927 in Tianjin, Shandong Province was another of this new generation. She graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music in 1952 and continued her studies at Tchaikovsky Music Conservatory in Moscow. During the 1960s, she gave recitals in Beijing, Tianjin, Wuhan, Hong Kong, Leningrad and other places. She also visited and gave performances in many countries including: Germany, U.S.A., Canada, Cuba, Columbia, Venezuela and Austria. The China Record Corporation published a number of her repertoires including famous arias and art songs. All her recordings were highly praised by critics and audience. She received the Gold Album Award at the First National Album Awards Appraisal in 1989. Guo Shuzhen was awarded the best instructor prize for the art songs competition among the music conservatories all over the country in 1988. She also received the first prize of the National Education Achievements in 1997.

     Hu Songhua 胡松华                    Cheng Zhi 程志                 Guo Shuzhen 郭淑珍                Jiang Dawei 蒋大为
Hu Songhua, 胡松华 was a popular tenor of this period. He was born into a Manchu family in Beijing in 1930, and graduated from the University of North China in 1949. The "Song of Harvest" brought him widespread fame. From 1952, he began to perform in the Central National Song and Dance Troupe. The music of Chinese minority groups was always close to his heart. In 1952, a grand music and dance epic entitled "The East Is Red" needed a Mongolian soundtrack, as a result, this task was given to Hu Songhua who was familiar with Mongolia. Recalling his beloved life in the grasslands, Hu Songhua decided to adopt the way of Mongolians to express feeling. Consequently, he sang "The Song of Praise" which raised the audiences' strong feelings. Hu Songhua collected many folk songs from more than 40 ethnic groups, and recorded for the soundtracks of some 30 films. In 1992, he produced, directed and starred in a much acclaimed musical art film in 12 parts, with the help of his wife, the famous dancer, Zhang Manru. It reflected the wonderful traditional art of Chinese minority groups.

Cheng Zhi is a famous Chinese tenor. Born in 1946, he joined the Chinese People's Liberation Army in 1962, entered the General Political Department Sing and Dance Troupe in 1965, and graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music, majoring in opera, in 1983. He is equally at ease with Italian traditional bel canto as well as Chinese Opera. Cheng Zhi has participated in many full-length operas as the lead, which have been praised by Chinese and foreigners alike. The chairman of the New York Opera, Bevery Bechi, praised Cheng Zhi as a "rare tenor". The New York Times described him as the freshest and cleanest voice heard in recent years. Cheng Zhi held concerts in many countries and regions of China.

Jiang Dawei, born January 22, 1947,  is a Chinese folk singer, best known for a number of hit songs such as the theme song for the 1986 TV series Journey to the West. In 1968, he joined the Forest Trooper Art Troupe and began his singing career. In 1975 he joined the Beijing Central National Song and Dance Ensemble as a solo singer. He later became chairman of Central National Song and Dance Troupe, and the chairman of China Light Music Troupe.

Returning to 1978 now, and Deng Xiaoping. His opening of the cultural door to a wider spectrum of countries did not mean that the authorities wished the return of the yellow music as such but once Pandora's Box is opened ... the Winds of Change will blow. And they did.

Teresa Teng in particular became known to mainlanders via tapes and radio. People defied the government and found ways to listen to Teresa and others such as Bobby Liu and Tam Roman. The youth of mainland China had awoken!! Teresa never sang in China - she was on the verge of doing so when she died prematurely in 1995. However she was instrumental in igniting the fire!  By the early 80s, regional recording companies were established in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing with local singers. The 1980s saw the beginning of rock music in China, with the emergence of singer-songwriters such as Cui Jian, followed by others such as He Yong and bands such as Tang Dynasty which became popular in the 1990s.

Singer Li Guyi 李谷一was among the first to challenge tradition. Born in Hunan on Nov 10, 1944, she was a National Class One Performer, and a member of the China Oriental Song and Dance Ensemble. From 1961 to 1974, she was a major performer in the Hunan Flower Drum Theatre. From 1974 to 1984, she transferred to the Central Orchestra as soloist. She sang more than forty songs circulated widely at home and abroad, including many patriotic songs such as "Me and My Motherland" and "Hometown of Beijing. " But she also sang a song called "Nostalgia" which was both praised and criticized. Nostalgia was treated as a "bourgeois" song and banned for a period of time. Then came 1983, and the CCTV Spring Festival Gala was held, responding to audience requests. At the party Li Guyi again sang the banned song in front of the whole nation. Nostalgia was the first true work in the history of mainland pop music.

    Teresa Teng  鄧麗君                    Li Guyi 李谷一                             Cui Jian 崔健                     Gu Jianfen  谷建芬

Gu Jianfen, 谷建芬, a famous composer, produced a song, "The Youth Friends Gather Around" and brought this song to universities, high schools, and kindergartens in Beijing and Shanghai. When it was sung in the Working People's Cultural Palace, it generated great excitement and people applauded this new type of music that they had never before heard. 

The younger generation started to look for new forms of expression in the mid and late-80s. Groups of young musicians started to produce and perform pop music. This was the first golden era of mainland pop music. A huge gathering of pop stars also took place in Beijing in 1986. Mainland singers recorded a classic charity song Let The World Be Filled With Love (inspired by the Western Superstars song We Are The World) and held an unprecedented all-star charity concert. At the concert, Cui Jian, the Godfather of Chinese mainland rock 'n' roll, announced his arrival and his album Nothing To My Name backed that up. 

From this concert a Chinese folk combo called Xin Tian You blasted Northwest Wind across China. Mainland musicians, determined to compete with Taiwan and Hong Kong, combined aggressive rock with traditional folk songs to widespread success. "Northwest Wind" became the big influence of the period. It began in the northwest regions of China such as Shanxi, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. An upbeat western tempo with a strong beat and extremely aggressive bass lines – very different to the Hong Kong Cantopop and the Taiwanese  Mandopop. Northwest Wind was the first original mainland music with many songwriters and singers  emerging. Quality Chinese films and soap operas also played their part in Northwest Wind's popularity.

Great rock singers and bands appeared : Tangchao Band, Black Panther Band, He Yong and Zhang Chu. Several classic rock songs, such as Rock On New Route Of Long March, Back to Tang Dynasty In Dream, Sister and God Bless Those Who Have Enough to Eat became huge hits. Pop singer Liu Huan (26/08/1963) became an overnight star. In 1990, he sang Spirit of Asia, theme song of the 11th Asian Games, held in Beijing.  He was chosen to sing the Olympic theme song You & Me with Sarah Brightman in 2008 due to this success at the Asian Games.

Mao Amin 毛阿敏 was born in 1963 in Shanghai. She became known as Dajieda ("Big Sister") and was one of China's most famous and senior female pop stars by the mid-1990s. In 2001, she was one of 36 Chinese athletes and entertainers who were depicted on a series of postage stamps issued in support of Beijing's bid for hosting the 2008 Olympic Games. Mao was known for her powerful and uninhibited voice. She won third place in the Yugoslavian International Musical Eisteddfod which was the highest honor a Chinese pop singer had ever been given in an international competition. Her performance in 1988 for the Chinese New Year TV Celebration really enhanced her popularity in Mainland China. By the late 1980s, Mao was China's biggest pop star, whilst retaining a nationalistic flavour in her songs. Following legal troubles on 1989, Mao underwent a transformation towards feminist music. Her 1994 single "Real Woman" being such an example.

Wei Wei  was born on September 28, 1963 in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, and was raised in Liuzhou, Guangxi. Her breakthrough came in 1986, when she won the National Young Singers contest on Chinese television. In 1987, China sent a representative to an international pop competition for the first time: The 24th Sopot International Song Festival in Poland. She won the competition, and the "Miss Photo-category" as well. Four years later, she was chosen to perform at the 11th Asian Games in Beijing, and sang a duet with Spanish singer Julio Iglesias at the 1993 East Asian Games in Shanghai. Wei Wei has been an Olympic Ambassador for China since 1993. Wei Wei was the single representative for Asia at the 100 year anniversary show at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. In 2004, she received the highest number of votes in an Internet survey as to who should sing the theme song of the Chinese Olympics. In 2006, Wei Wei celebrated 20 years on stage. She has sold over 250 million records. She is a contralto, which is rare in Chinese Pop.

                   Liu Huan 刘欢                                      Yang Yuying 杨钰莹                                         Mao-Amin 茂阿明

Guangdong pop music, always at the fore-front of the music industry, hit a new high in the early 1990s as entrepreneurs began signing and promoting artists.

Yang Yuying was such an example.  Born on May 11, 1971, in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, Yang started performing on the stage at the age of six. In 1991, she signed her first contract with Guangzhou New Era Audio & Video Co., becoming one of the first signed singers in Chinese mainland since 1978. Her first album was released in 1992. Yang holds the record of disc album sales on the Chinese mainland. She was named the "Queen of Sweet Songs" in China's mainland for her delicate and youthful voice. Her most famous songs include "Let Me Tell You Softly," "Bless for Love," "Dream Flowers," "I Don't Want to Say," "Wait for You for Ten Thousand Years" and "Because of You." Yang withdrew from the music spotlight in 2000, and began travelling the world. Maybe she discovered that there is more to life than music.

Now mainland popular entrepreneurs begun to create pop idols. No longer did stars from Hong Kong and Taiwan dominate the Asian market exclusively. Chen Ming's Loneliness Makes Me So Beautiful, Film and TV Actor Allen Lin's Love Bird, and Chen Lin's Your Tenderness I Never Know were big hits of this period.

Chen Lin was born on January 31, 1970 in Chongqing. She committed suicide by jumping from the ninth floor of an apartment in Chaoyang District, Beijing on October 31, 2009. She rose to stardom with her 1993 album entitled "I Can Never Understand Your Love". It reached the top of the Chinese album charts, selling 1.5 million copies. The singles "I Choose What I Want" and "Give Up Your Love" were great successes. In 1995, she married the singer Shen Yongge who was boss of Zhu Shu Entertainment Ltd., but they divorced in 2007. She was voted the Best Female Artist in mainland China for 2002. Her second marriage was to singer Zhang Chaofeng in 2009. Friends said she was plagued by emotional problems. Tragically, she committed suicide by jumping from the ninth floor of an apartment in Chaoyang District, Beijing on October 31, 2009.

Cheng Lin was born in Luoyang, Henan, on 15 Oct, 1967. At the age of 13 she recorded "Little Horn". Since then she has sold 25 million albums across Asia. Cheng is also a keen Erhu player, a traditional two-string violin. She was taught to play at a young age by her father, and still uses the instrument in her music today. She studied in the United States and learned English, learning more about Western music in the process. She was the first Chinese national to have her music videos air on national television in China in the 1980s.

Chen Ming was born on 15 July, 1968. In 1993, Chen gave up her stable factory job and left her hometown of Luoyang city, Henan province, to chase her musical dream in Guangdong province's Shenzhen, which was the mainland's major pop hub. She became a bar singer and covered Hong Kong stars' popular songs. The happiest thing then, Chen recalls, was cooperating with bands and singing live. "The mainland didn't have record companies," she recalls. Guangzhou's China Record Company signed her in 1994 and released her first album. She became a household name for her 1994 album's title song Loneliness Makes Me So Beautiful, which sold more than 1 million copies on the Chinese mainland. In 1998, she got married and took a break from her career. She found that the industry had changed alot when she released a new album in 2009. "People want something that instantly catches their ears," she says. "They don't have time to read the lyrics and savor the melodies. I still live in the old days. So I felt uncomfortable about the new environment." But she is philosophical. "My return isn't too stressful. I'm learning to adapt to today. And I don't want to keep singing the same songs for the sake of sales."

           Chen Lin 陈琳                       Chen Ming  陈明                      Cheng Lin 程琳                         Wei Wei  韋唯

Song Zuying is a famous soprano and Folk-Singer. She is one of today's most popular singers in China. Born in Guzhang County, Hunan, on August 13, 1966, she is very true to her Fire Horse spirit  She is of Hmong ethnicity. She studied at the department of music and dancing in the Central Institute for Nationalities in Beijing, after which she studied at the China Music College. Her father died when she was 12. In 1991, she joined the Chinese People's Liberation Army Naval Song and Dance Troupe as a national first-class singer. As of 2009, she is a non-combatant Rear Admiral in the Chinese Navy and a member of the Communist Party of China.

New styles of music were constantly emerging on the mainland. Influenced by Taiwan's campus ballads, Beijing songwriters and singers started a "Neo-Ballad Movement", bringing this music genre to its peak and creating Chinese pop classics. Campus Ballads helped Lao Lang, Shen Qing, Ye Bei and Pu Shu to make their mark during this era. My Dear Deskmate, Youth, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone were torch bearers of that generation. This genre didn't quite achieve mainstream popularity because young people wanted music less sad and poignant, and more upbeat.

By the late 1990s the mainland pop music was lit up again with with singers such as Na Ying, Faye Wong, Han Hong, Liu Huan, Tian Zhen and Sun Nan. These became the new superstars of mainland pop music. And many music charts and awards were being launched by local radio and TV stations. Xue Cun presented "All Northeast People Are Lei Feng"  through the Internet - and became an overnight sensation.  Since the Millenium, Chinese Pop, rather like Western Pop has become somewhat of a "here today, gone tomorrow" business with ever-changing fads, and men-in-suits deciding what the young people should like next. Or has it ...