Some days ago the Hongkongese singer and actor Andy Hui, better known in the West for his role in the 1990s comedies Dr. Mack and Future Cops, was criticized publicly in the Chinese TV program China’s Star (Zhongguo zhi xing) by Cui Jian, a rock star who is so popular outside the People’s Republic of China that we will just call him “the stupid guy with a commie hat.” Andy Hui performed Jacky Cheung’s song “How can I give up on you” (Zammo sedak nei), which is sang in Cantonese, and the stupid guy with a commie hat found this so outrageous that, instead of praising his singing like everybody else, decided to spit up a well-learned bile-fueled monologue sponsored by the government and re-education system of the People’s Republic of China:
I don´t really understand this song and I have never heard it before, but of course I have been reading the lyrics. I would like to ask why did you go and choose such a song. […] But I think that today’s life… we are living in the 21st century, Year 2015, what you sing makes today’s audience, making the young people of today listen to an old song, and a song in Cantonese, what are you implying?
Quite surprising that a guy who is known in China as “The Father of Chinese Rock” –meaning People’s Republic of China’s Rock, of course– never heard one of the most popular songs of Jacky Cheung. But his main point here is that the 21st century is the Century of China and, for this reason, there is no place for old Cantonese songs in a Chinese TV program.
How about all that BS about Chinese culture? Isn´t Cantonese, especially now that Hong Kong is controlled by China, part of their millenary Chinese culture? Shouldn´t it be promoted and protected? Of course not. Recent years have seen an increase in the Party’s efforts to control cultural matters, and music is no exception. Just after the Tianjin explosion in August the government banned 120 Chinese “immoral” songs. Songs in dialects or foreign languages, such as Cantonese, have avoided censorship up to now, but their role in Chinese society has been diminished in the last years thanks to the educational system, which favors the official Putonghua language and punishes students who use dialects, topolects or foreign languages at school.
You can basically find the following signal everywhere in China, but especially in schools, universities and even banks: “Speak Putonghua, write regulated characters [i.e., simplified Chinese], be civilized.” This recalls some authoritarian policies in Europe. For example, in territories dominated by France students were required to “Speak French, be clean,” and so did the Nazis when they took over non-Germanic countries. Chinese education reinforces the idea of the superiority of China’s Putonghua over other languages, even telling everyone that it is the most difficult language in the world (and it is not). I recall a former teacher in China who liked to use her native dialect with her boyfriend, because they were both from the same province. The guy, however, refused to use it and they always ended up fighting for something as stupid as “Why don´t you speak the official language?” She later started to use Traditional Chinese online –this was the result of my obnoxious influence!– and they even fought over that and finally broke up.
“Speak Putonghua, write regulated characters, be civilized” (Nankai University, Tianjin)
“Speak French, be clean” (Ayguatébia-Talau, France).
Going back to the Cantonese songs problem, anyone with Chinese friends can try the following experiment: take them to a karaoke and sing only Cantonese songs. They will probably be amazed at first, let’s say, like the first two minutes or so. After that they will start complaining: why don´t you sing Putonghua songs? Why you always sing the same songs? (You don´t, but never mind, that’s their automatic response) After a while you will realize that they “jump the song queue,” so your songs will always be behind and you won´t have a chance to sing. That’s China, their soil, their songs.
Last but not least, I think something should be said about the stupid guy with a commie hat. He was not like this before. In fact, this guy’s song “Nothing to My Name” (Yi wu suo you) was the anthem of the protestors at Tianan’men Square during the 1989 student demonstrations. He was there with them and usually accompanied Wu’er Kaixi, the most prominent leader of the movement. In 1990 he performed in various Chinese cities with a red blindfold, singing politically explicit songs. For this reason, his tour was cancelled and he was banned for more than 10 years. Now that he is back, he does not wear a red blindfold anymore. Do not expect the old fight-for-freedom songs, because now it’s the 21st century, the Century of China, a century of commie hats with red stars.