“如此生活三十年直到大廈崩塌”… Music and the 30th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Student Movement

2019 marks the 30 years anniversary of the Tiananmen democratic movement, and its bloody crackdown. These past 30 years had a huge impact on Chinese popular music, from the official crackdown on Beijing rock’n’roll community after 1989 to the recent disappearance of Cui Jian’s 崔健 songs from the internet, and the disturbing physical disappearance of the folk-rock singer Li Zhi 李志 these past few days. Official censorship is at its peak the days before the 30 year anniversary of the June 4th crackdown, it is no longer possible to comment videos on the streaming app Bilibili, some internet accounts are being closed down, and some people have to take forced holidays during the June 4th week.

Li Zhi was probably targeted because of the content of his songs, which make reference to the Tiananmen democratic movement, but also because of his recent legal troubles, the folk singer indeed sued the TV Show “The Coming One” (明日之子) for using his songs without his authorization. It goes without saying that his songs mentioning the 1989 student movement – which he now doesn’t sing during live performances – were the first targeted by the Chinese authorities. Two of his songs clearly mention 1989: “The Square” (广场), a reference to the Tiananmen Square and the June 4th crackdown; and “Goddess” (女神), which reminds of the Goddess of Democracy, a statue erected by the students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts on May 30th, 1989. The translation in English of these two songs comes from an article by the China Digital Time.

Li Zhi, “The Square”: https://youtu.be/JdE4Ehte4uU
Where are you riding your scooter to?
You’re gliding in happy circles
They watch you and wish you the best
I used to have a face like yours
Now this square is my grave
This song will be your dirge
You’ll be taught to be a bad guy
A heartless, lazy dick
Please don’t trust his love
Dawn still hasn’t come
Please don’t believe he cares
His pistol’s pointed at your chest
Now this square is my grave
This song will be your dirge
You’ll be taught to be a bad guy
A heartless, lazy animal
Yesterday was like a dream
Flew by like a shooting star
I forgot about him
I forgot what those two hands did
I’ll never be so cocky again
I’ll never love you like that again

Suddenly, one day, I woke up
Outside, I saw a white cloud
A low-slung train flew by
And a leaf fell
I feel everything growing up
Everything growing old
Everything, just like you
Everything, just like me
Everything is just a dream
Those times are gone forever
Kill him
Stab him again
Fire
Killed him
Finished him
I still don’t believe it
Still don’t believe it
Killed him
I forgot about his hands
Li Zhi, “Goddess”: https://youtu.be/rkPHa972YQg
I have a friend, she’s 21
Always wears a white windbreaker
She lives behind a box
A photo hangs there
The people in the photo are inside the box
Each morning, a red diaper rises from a phallus
So she can’t see the people’s faces on the tombstones
This friend of mine,
She says she’s a treasure
Why did Daddy leave her here?
He says he’ll come back
He says he’s waiting
The blue ocean is quiet and distant
She survives on the fresh blood of the past
Waiting’s only brought a makeup-wearing hound
A house sits to the west
The spring brings applause
The shameless adults disgust her

A house sits to the east
The autumn brings laughter
The ignorant children disgust her, too
She’s in the corner, forgotten by the rich
Her clothes dirtied by the flowing colors of time
I have a friend
Sometimes I go see her
She never sees the color of the sky
This photo under the sky
Like the paper I use
I love it, I hate it, I feel sorry for it
Spectacular two-faced world uniting all living things
Another dizzy spell and the blood on the ground will disappear
The world is changing
My fucking ideals still can’t come true
The world is changing
My fucking ideals still can’t come true
My ideals are changing
This fucking world still can’t come true

For the 30 year anniversary of Tiananmen, the Hong Kong post-rock band Tat Ming Pair 達明一派 paid his own tribute to the democratic movement with the beautiful song “Criminal Memory” (回憶有罪) which lashes out at Chinese censorship in this sumptuous music video. The video uses iconic photos of the 1989 crackdown, and finishes with an evocation of the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution of 2014. Tat Ming Pair knows firsthand the mechanism of official censorship, since their songs were recently censored by Apple in its Chinese Apple Store, alongside other important figures of Cantopop music like Jackie Cheung.

Tat Ming Pair, “回憶有罪”: https://youtu.be/kZaE6jAwOM4
舊日或問天 怎允許摧毀信念
浩蕩像為了 被懷念
現在別問他 可有膽公開紀念
被現實騎劫 怎怨天
如燭光都有罪 將暗黑多幾十年
如傷疤都有靈 未變臉
回憶即使有罪 真相怎麼敢無言
歷史假使有人 定被發現
現在若問他 可悔當天走太前
道路腐壞了 不敢涉險
現在若問我 怎會這麼想紀念
烈焰幻滅過 總有煙
如燭光都有罪 將暗黑多幾十年
如傷疤都有靈 未變臉
回憶即使有罪 真相怎麼敢無言
歷史假使有人 定被發現
皇天不必答辯 只怕蒼生肯忘言
后土不知冷熱 生滅無念
歷史只懂向前 輾轉反側三十年
如今滄桑少年 莫問蒼天
若舉傘 為誰命運祭奠
廣場上 這麼多告別
莫須有 是誰造就壯烈
願廣場上 聲音不會滅

Anthony Wong, the singer of Tat Ming Pair, sang “回憶有罪” during the Hong Kong vigil on June 4th, 2019 at Victoria Park, in front of 180.000 people.

Hong Kong singer Anthony Wong performs his new song – “Is it a Crime” – written on the eve of the 30th anniversary of June 4.

“I’ve never stood on this stage before… I’m not usually the kind of person that shout slogans,” Wong said. pic.twitter.com/DZmzaZlkiE— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) June 4, 2019

Anthony Wong singing “回憶有罪” during the 2019 Tiananmen vigil. Hong Kong Free Press.

Talking about Jacky Cheung (张学友), his famous song, written by Cantopop Godfather James Wong, “The Path of Man” (人间道), was removed from streaming apps in China. The song, featured in the Hong Kong movie A Chinese Ghost Story II, released in 1990, refers directly to the June 4th massacre, according to the late lyricist: “The youth are angry, heaven and earth are weeping… How did our land become a sea of blood? How did the path home become a path of no return?”.

Jacky Cheung, “The Path of Man”: https://youtu.be/yzF_O1kT3z8

Li Zhi and Tat Ming Pair were not the first to mention the 1989 student movement in their songs. Singers, mostly rockers, were mobilized in favor of the students, and often sang during the protests. It’s now a cliché to remind that Cui Jian’s song “一无所有” (“Nothing to my Name”) was the anthem of the students during the 1989 democratic movement. Cui Jian and He Yong performed in Tiananmen Square in 1989, as shown in this audio record of Cui Jian’s concert on May 20th 1989 in Tiananmen:

Apart from Cui Jian and He Yong, other rockers, from China or Taiwan, participated in the 1989 democratic movement. Hou Dejian 侯德健, a popular Taiwanese singer, was with the students up until the end, negotiating alongside Liu Xiaobo with the authorities the retreat of the students from the square. In this video taken in Hong Kong during a demonstration in favor of the Chinese students on May 27, 1989, Hou Dejian sang his hit-song “Heir of the Dragon” (“龙的传人”), written in 1978, which he modified after 1989 – he changed the lyrics “black eyes, black hair, yellow skin” after meeting the Uyghur student leader Wuer Kaixi, since being Chinese does not mean to be ethnically “Han”. Unfortunately for his symbolic posterity, Hou Dejian recently composed a song praising Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream”. As Chateaubriand (and de Gaulle) would say, “old age is a shipwreck”.

Hou Dejian in Hong Kong in 1989: https://youtu.be/-btV6XWtFr8

During this demonstration in support of the Chinese student movement in Hong Kong, the very popular Taiwanese singer Deng Lijun (Teresa Teng 邓丽君) sang the famous song “My Home is in this Mountain” (家在山那边). At this time, Teresa Teng was a rock star in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Asia in general, to the extent that there was a popular saying in China up until the 1990s stating that “Old Deng [Xiaoping] rules by day, little Deng [Lijun] rules by night”:

Deng Lijun in Hong Kong in 1989: https://youtu.be/WONKqNMw6FM

The crackdown on the student movement came also with an increased control of popular music. For instance, Cui Jian was forbidden from performing in Beijing until 2007. However, 1990s musical production was influenced by the crackdown, in the music itself or through the despair in the lyrics. In Cui Jian’s “The Last Bullet” (“最后一枪”) we think of bullets being shot when we hear the drums, and see the distress of the singer in the video-clip directed by the (then) independent director Zhang Yuan 张元:

Cui Jian, “最后一枪”: https://youtu.be/NROdt4nhq8E

He Yong’s “Garbage Dump” (“垃圾场”) is perhaps the song that reflects the most accurately the post-Tiananmen state of mind. The proto-punk ask the audience if “there is still hope” (“有没有希望”) in a society where “humans eat conscience and shit ideology”:

He Yong, “垃圾场”: https://youtu.be/93xobgXBZKw

What about the new generation of musicians who didn’t experienced the 1989 crackdown? Against all odds, since the late 1990s, punks and rockers made reference to the democratic movement and its crackdown – more or less clearly. The Wuhanese punk band SMZB is perhaps the most straightforward band when they talk about 1989. In its song “Mother TAM”, SMZB talks about the Tiananmen Mothers, an association led by Ding Zilin, which tries to establish what happened during the June 4th crackdown:

SMZB, “Mother TAM”: https://youtu.be/KoZ0O01l7Gg

We can even say that the entire work of SMZB is dedicated to the history of the oppressed in contemporary China, from Lin Zhao to the petitioners, and more specifically to the memory of the 1989 students. We could list a lot of other songs, as “China Dream”, but the most obvious reference to Tiananmen is the cover of SMZB album “A Letter From China” which literally piss on censorship:

Other singers made reference to Tiananmen, like Muma (木马), from Changsha, in his poetic and melancholic song “舞步” (“Dance Step”) on “the death of a teacher in spring”. Here Muma is performing the song in the 46 Livehouse in Changsha (the name of the bar itself is a reference to June 4th), in the documentary “The Sound and the City” (“渔湾市”). “What comes next, it’s your decision”:

Muma singing “舞步”: https://youtu.be/ZO-f1vsnlS8?t=4914

The band SUBS in their 2006 album “Down” sing “Brother”, a song talking about the brother of a friend who died and whose memory is being forgotten: “In 1989/I was ten/My friend was eleven/His brother disappeared/A film is shown every ten years/We have already grown to manhood now/He has forgotten…his brother”.

The post-punk band P.K.14 from Nanjing sang the most beautiful tribute to the students in “这辆红色的列车” (“This Red Train”). A red train carrying the blood of the youth (“年轻的血”):

PK14, “这辆红色的列车”: https://youtu.be/MtzEy__aC1k

Another poetic reference to Tiananmen can be heard in the last album of the post-punk band from Wuhan, AV Okubo (AV 大久保) produced by Andy Gill from Gang of Four (the English punk band, not the 四人帮). The iconic image of the tank is mobilized in “Red Tank” (红坦克), while the lyrics – again – revolves around youth and crushed hopes.

Burning flames of the young man’s heart
Shines the fiery-red upon the face
Feverish tears in the eyes
Filled with hubris of the divine
The confused and miserable Imagination
Is shading inexorable and soundlessly
into nowhere
Fearless and ignorant minds
Focus on the blurred image
Vow with a shy blush
like the vision from
the crutch, rising a bright moon
Ambition never fluctuates
dashed into the deep shadow-land
Fireflies fly over
nets of neurons
flittering
finding no way
sun in the brain
departs from his path
and please take the count-down
on its rapid expanding
explode your brain!
let the flakes flutter on

Remembering June 4th means also fighting for the truth, as Demerit sings in “Voice of the People”. When the government and the media try to hide the truth, “you need to find the truth, because there’s fear inside this place”:

Memory of the 1989 movement still exists in the musical underground, where it can be expressed through songs and images. Talking about images, here are some covers of the rock magazine “So Rock!” (“我爱摇滚乐”), which makes a reference to the Tiananmen crackdown in every June issue:

The title of this blog post (“如此生活三十年直到大廈崩塌”) is a reference to the song by the post-punk band from Shijiazhuang, Omnipotent Youth Society 万能青年旅店, “Kill the One from Shijiazhuang” (“杀死那个石家庄人”) – which literally means “living like that for 30 years, up until the building collapses”. The song, published in their first – and until now only – album in 2010, is not dedicated to the democratic movement, but offers a poetic and nihilistic reflection on China after years of economic reforms. As I rencently discovered, another song by Omnipotent Youth Society, “在这颗行星所有的酒馆” (In all the tavern of the earth) is a direct reference to the Tiananmen crackdown – you have to replace “酒馆” (tavern) by “广场” (square). It also talks about the spirit of the youth crushed by a tank. As you may expect, the song was recently banned in China. In any case, “Kill the One from Shijiazhuang” (“杀死那个石家庄人”) takes another meaning the year of the 30 years anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown…

万能青年旅店
杀死那个石家庄人”
 
傍晚6点下班
换掉药厂的衣裳
妻子在熬粥
我去喝几瓶啤酒
如此生活30年
直到大厦崩塌
云层深处的黑暗啊
淹没心底的景观

在八角柜台
疯狂的人民商场
用一张假钞
买一把假枪
保卫她的生活
直到大厦崩塌
夜幕覆盖华北平原
忧伤浸透她的脸

河北师大附中
乒乓少年背向我
沉默的注视
无法离开的教室
生活在经验里
直到大厦崩塌
一万匹脱缰的马
在他脑海中奔跑

如此生活30年
直到大厦崩塌
云层深处的黑暗啊
淹没心底的景观
Omnipotent Youth Society
“Kill the One from Shijiazhuang”


Finishing work at 6 in the evening
Taking off the uniform from the pharmaceutical factory
His wife is making porridge
I go and drink a few bottles of bier
Living like that for 30 years
Until the building collapses
The thick obscurity of the clouds
Is drowning the the view in my heart

On the octagonal counter
The craziness of the People’s market
Using counterfeit money
To buy a fake pistol
Protecting her own life
Until the building collapses
Darkness covered the Hubei’s plain
Her face is soaked with sadness

In Heibei Normal Middle School
The kids playing ping-pong facing away from me
I silently observe
Unable from leaving the classroom
Living in these past experiences
Until the building collapses
10.000 free horses
Are running in his head

Living like that for 30 years
Until the building collapses
The thick obscurity of the clouds
Is drowning the the view in my heart


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