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Exhibit shows how pop bubbled up in China

Updated: 2013-10-13 08:27
By Zhang Kun in Shanghai ( China Daily)

While middle-aged people walk nostalgically through the cassette players, yellowed posters and dog-eared notebooks with handwritten song lyrics, young fans scream in front of pictures of their new idols, snapping one photograph after another.

This is an exhibition about Chinese pop music going on at Life Hub@Anting, a new shopping mall in Shanghai's suburban Jiaiding district. Our Music Class consists of almost 1,000 exhibits arranged under seven subjects.

It is a retrospective show that tells about pop music's development in China over the past four decades, which coincides with the country's opening up and rapid economic takeoff, says the curator, Momo, who identifies himself with his ID on the Internet.

A series of lectures are scheduled in the show, which runs for a month. Music makers, critics and dedicated music fans, such as the curator himself, will give lectures and share their observations about China's pop music scene, especially those of Hong Kong and Taiwan, from where Chinese pop music originally stemmed.

Lee Shou-chuan from Taiwan was the first to meet with audiences, before the official launch of the show. The composer and music producer's career spans more than 40 years.

The 1980s was a "golden age" for Chinese pop music, he says. The economic development just started, and the time stimulated creative expressions. "People demanded good music and the market was exuberant," Lee says.

In the 1990s, music videos became popular and brought hit songs to the whole world. Then in the 2000s, the Internet - free downloads and piracy - brought the music industry from dawn to sunset. "Now music sales are no more than 5 percent of that in the golden age," he says.

The exhibition tells of a "Coke Bottle" incident that became a landmark in Chinese pop music development. In the 1970s, only Western music was heard in pubs in Taiwan. On one night in 1976, an artist and singer, Lee Shuang-tse, mounted the stage at a college concert, with a bottle of Coca-Cola in hand. He challenged the audience, asking "do we even have a song of our own?" Then he threw the bottle at them.

Sadly, Lee Shuang-tse drowned the following year, but his question brought up heated discussion that went on for a long time and inspired many musicians in Taiwan. They kicked off an age of creativity in the island's music scene, which had a great impact on the whole community.

Pop idols from Taiwan and Hong Kong, such as Teresa Teng (1953-1995) and Leslie Cheung (1956-2003), are featured at the exhibition.

In the 1970s when Teng began to gain popularity, the Chinese mainland was experiencing political tension and was very alert to "corrupt influences" from Taiwan, such as Teng's music style. The exhibition presents her albums introduced to the mainland since the 1980s.

Cheung still has a large and active fan base in China, 10 years after he committed suicide.

"When Leslie Cheung first emerged in the Hong Kong entertainment world, after studying in Britain, he wasn't well received because his style was more Western than the audiences were used to," Momo says. "But as he became better accepted, his style became more flashy, fashionable, unisex and bold. He was really a special figure in the Chinese music scene. You can say he changed China's music and film history."

Cheung's fanatic admirers contributed some highly valuable pieces for the show, such as the only surviving copy of an out-of-print picture book. "It sells at about 9,000 yuan ($1,469) on the Internet nowadays," Momo tells China Daily.

Momo, 41, has done various jobs in the public relations and media industries, and has been a dedicated pop lover for decades.

"Pop music is everywhere, and yet no one takes it seriously," he says. "It's actually an important part of modern culture. Maybe in a thousand years, scholars will find more about our life and time from it than any other relic."


(China Daily 10/13/2013 page15)

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