[English] Remembering June 4th in Songs

The history of the Chinese 1989 democratic movement is also a musical story. Singers, mostly rockers, were mobilized in favor of the students, who often sing their songs 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 Tian’anmen Square in 1989, as shown in the audio record of Cui Jian concert on May 20th 1989 in Tian’anmen:

Cui Jian and He Yong weren’t the only rockers participating in the democratic movement. Hou Dejian, a popular Taiwanese singer, was beside the students up until the end, negotiating alongside Liu Xiaobo with the authorities the retreat of the students. Here is a video of Hou Dejian during a June 4th vigil in Hong Kong where he sang his famous song, “Heir of the Dragon” (“龙的传人”), written in 1978, which he modified after 1989 – for instance after meeting the Uyghur student leader Wuer Kaixi, he changed the lyrics “black eyes, black hair, yellow skin”, since being Chinese does not mean anymore to be ethnically “Han”:

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. I talked about it here:

However, 1990s musical production was influenced by the crackdown, through the music or the despair in the lyrics. For instance, 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 Zhang Yuan:

He Yong’s “Garbage Dump” (“垃圾场”) is perhaps the song that reflects the most accurately the post-Tian’anmen state of mind. The proto-punk ask the audience if “there is still hope” (“有没有希望”):

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 his song “Mother TAM”, SMZB talks about the Tian’anmen Mothers, an association led by Ding Zilin, which tries to establish what happened during the June 4th crackdown:

We can even say that the entire work of SMZB is dedicated to the history of the oppressed in contemporary China, 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 Tian’anmen is the cover of SMZB album “A Letter From China” which literally piss on censorship:

Other singers made reference to Tian’anmen, 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”):

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:

The post-punk band P.K.14 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”):

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”:

The metal band Ordnance (军械所) is known for the political meaning of their songs. They often criticize the government and the corruption of the officials, or even internet censorship in their E.P. “Tear Down This Wall”. In their E.P. “Becoming a Citizen” (“成为公民”), they published a letter from the Tian’anmen Mothers:

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 Tian’anmen crackdown in every June issue:


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