There has been a lot of talk of China’s soft-power muscle-flexing, with a Confucius Institute for every college, city and town in the world (and let us take a moment to marvel at the CI English website address: english.chinese.cn – and spanish.chinese.cn, or russian.chinese.cn). Even a quick look at the offerings of these Institutes reveals a China that barely resembles that which exists now: Acrobatics, the traditional comedic stylings of ‘cross-talk,’ kung-fu, ancient scroll paintings, traditional opera. I can sympathize, to a point: After all, it’s what people assume China has to offer. I’ll never forget that one jackass French viewer who, during industrial-rock act Tongue’s first French set, in Rennes back in 2004 (go 86/33 Link!), shouted, inexplicably, “Jackie Chan!” I was also asked, during one of Subs’ Nordic tours, if the band hung out much with the 5, 6, 7, 8’s, the Japanese band then in vogue, thanks to Quentin Tarantino and a guy named Bill.
But hard rock is starting to find its way into soft power. While Beijing-based Mongolian folk act Hanggai – who, I am ecstatic to once again announce, are coming not just to my hometown, Toronto, but to my danwei, or work unit, Harbourfront Centre, for our Planet IndigenUS festival in early August – have received governmental support for tours to North and South America.
The biggest governmental headbang thus far in yaogun’s history sees the Ministry of Culture sending three Chinese heavy metal bands to metal’s biggest event, the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany. The China Daily, for one, was happy about this latest trend.
(if I might, once again, take us back to Hanggai – who, have I mentioned this?, perform in Toronto Aug 11 – the folk group performed at that very festival, though they are a folk group and though the fest is very heavily metal, back in 2010 to an extremely appreciative crowd:
Our friends at Rock in China have the story as well, and tell us that as part of the Chinese Culture Year in Germany, the Midi School of Music and the Midi Festival was brought in by China’s Ministry of Culture to help on the project. Yaksa, Suffocated and The Falling have been chosen to join the festivities; the Falling being the Chinese representative at the international metal battle of the bands, W:O:A Metal Battle, and China will supply a jury member for the competition. Chinese heavy metal mag Painkiller Magazine is also involved in the production side of things. “It is an honor to be
entrusted (with) this project by the Chinese Ministry of Culture,” said Zhang Fan, head of the Midi School and Festival. “Music education and international music culture exchange have always been the main focuses of Midi School of Music. We have the Midi Festival to introduce good overseas bands to the Chines audience, and the same time we also hope to help more Chinese bands go abroad.”
Meanwhile, also as a part of the Culture Year, China was the country of focus at TFF Rudolstadt, Germany’s biggest folk, roots and world music festival, which was held July 5-8. That meant the straight-up traditional sounds of things like kunqu opera, but it also meant the “free folk” (that is, mostly improvised, sometimes magical, often times masturbatory) of indie scene darling Xiao He, and prog-rock-meets traditional comedy and folk music outfit, Second-Hand Rose (who now seem, in their English guise, to go by their “Chinese” name, ‘Er Shou Mei Gui’). China was the country of honour at MIDEM in 2008. Unfortunately for the artists, these gigs wind up just quick jaunts, which is really a shame, since it’s plane fare that’s preventing so much yaogun from getting out in the world in a big way.
But. If this is a sign of things to come, we may well see Chinese soft power that has actual value to average citizens of the world – citizens who don’t believe, as they sit through hours-long operas or acrobatics extravaganzas, that what they are seeing is representative of today’s Chinese culture. Not that there isn’t a space for the opera, but that shouldn’t be the only cultural creation on display. I remember being blown away by hearing an actual Ministry of Culture staffer tell me that she wished she could present to young American kids the kinds of culture that would get them interested in China. Folks like that staffer now seem to be getting the chance to work their own magic. Now it’s up to the artists to show the world that China has more to offer than kung fu.