SMZB, « Once Upon A Time In The East » and its 6 missing songs

I recently wrote an article on RadiiChina about SMZB new album, « Once Upon A Time In The East » (东方往事), which is supposed to be released soon on Maybe Mars – the famous indie label bought by Taihe Music last year. In fact, the album was released on September 27 on the streaming platform NetEase (网易云音乐), but not entirely: several songs are missing, as in the official Maybe Mars release announcement on WeChat. What is more, the album cover is blurred in both platforms, as shown below. What does it tell you about the state of music censorship in China, and to be honest, is that very surprising?

SMZB last album’s cover in the Maybe Mars’ Wechat press release and on the streaming platform NetEase.

As Wu Wei told me in the RadiiChina article, “Because of the new album’s cover, no record manufacturer in mainland China would dare print it. So, it might be made in Taiwan, then shipped back to the mainland to be sold.” Indeed, the new album cover features a photo of a fallen statue of Mao (see below). This new CD – and we will talk about it in a moment – is precisely dealing with China’s past and the figure of Mao, which was the subject of one of SMZB’s most well-known song in their 2014 album, « Smash His Statue ». On Maybe Mars Bandcamp page you can see the full album cover, and listen to the 13 songs.

SMZB new album cover, uncensored

First of all, which songs are missing? In Maybe Mars Wechat’s article and on NetEase, we can only see 9 songs – instead of 15 as originally intended. What’s also interesting, is that the Wechat article obviously shows that several songs have disappeared – the tracklist starts at « 2 » and jumps from « 9 » to « 13 ». The missing songs are: « Red Riot », « 臨終虐待 », « 幸福集中營 », « 悲慘新世界 », « 東方之珠 », and the bonus track « A Pearl of the Orient » (the English version of « 東方之珠 »). And the comments on NetEase and Wechat are precisely talking about that, the missing songs and the blurry cover. What is not here is still present by its absence.

The original track-list on the back cover of the album
Some comments on NetEase

You can however listen to the (almost) complete album on iTunes and Spotify. Only « 東方之珠 » (the two versions) are missing… probably because of copyright issues (it’s a cover of a famous song by the Taiwanese singer Lo Ta-Yu).

The album on iTunes – note that the cover is also blurred

To be honest it’s not surprising that several songs are missing from SMZB new album. It’s already surprising that some songs are on Chinese streaming platforms: the two previous album (« A Letter From China » – with photos of the Tiananmen protests – and « The Chinese Are Coming« ) are not available on Chinese platforms. In fact the previous albums couldn’t even be sold on the official Chinese market, and had to be purchased during concerts or in indie music stores. I don’t think we will be able to buy the physical albums in China – the label must first buy an official ISRC number in order to publish a CD, the last two SMZB albums didn’t have an ISRC number. I already talked about Chinese musical censorship and how artists and labels navigate these troubled water in an article, « Navigating and Circumventing (Self)censorship in the Chinese Music Scene » published in China Perspectives a couple of months ago.

Then, what are the missing songs talking about? « 東方之珠 » is a cover song about Hong Kong, written in the late 1980s by the Taiwanese rocker Lo Ta-Yu. Apart from copyright issues, singing this song today can be interpreted as a statement of support for Hong Kong protesters – something that Wu Wei already told countless times. « Red Riot » talks about the crimes of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the absurd violence of this period and the responsibility of Mao. « 臨終虐待 » is about Mao’s Great Famine, one of the worst man-made famine in human history (1958-1962) known in China as the « Three Years of Difficulty ». « 幸福集中營 » is about China’s reeducation through labor system – or as in the title « concentration camps » – which can be traced back to the Maoist anti-rightist campaign, but has strong implications today. The last missing song, « 悲慘新世界 » talks about nowadays difficulties in the Chinese countryside, the lack of food, clothes, education and AIDS epidemic. As always, SMZB is building an alternative history of China, saying their truth about the Great Famine, the anti-rightist campaign, the Cultural revolution, or the Tiananmen protests. Most of these songs are on YouTube – not uploaded by Maybe Mars or Taihe – and use historical footage of the Maoist era in the videos. Here are the music videos (MV) for 4 of the missing songs:

« A Pearl of the Orient »
« Red Riot »
« 幸福集中营 »
“临终虐待 »

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