Writings / Écrits

Nathanel Amar 馬泰然

Associate Researcher, French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC), Hong Kong
nathanel.amar @ gmail.com

Book / Livre

2022. Scream for Life. L’invention d’une contre-culture punk en Chine populaire, Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2022, 414 p.

L’émergence au milieu des années 1990 en République populaire de Chine d’un underground musical punk à Pékin et Wuhan a de quoi surprendre, quelques années seulement après la répression du mouvement démocratique de Tian’anmen. De jeunes Chinois et Chinoises ont ainsi investi des espaces en dehors du marché et de l’État afin de constituer des communautés alternatives où de nouvelles formes de vie ont été expérimentées loin des critères établis par le Parti communiste chinois.

Cet ouvrage retrace pour la première fois l’histoire du punk chinois, replacé dans le contexte plus large des mouvements contre-culturels chinois, et tente, en adoptant une approche ethnographique, de donner une idée précise de ce qui s’élabore dans ces espaces et des significations que les acteurs du punk attribuent à leurs pratiques musicales. De l’histoire du rock chinois des années 1980 à l’introduction sur le marché noir des dakou (CD et cassettes de contrebande venus de l’Occident), en passant par les tournées en compagnie des groupes de punk, les insultes proférées dans les chansons, ou les pogos dansés dans des salles de concert minuscules, cet ouvrage apporte un éclairage inédit sur un mouvement contestataire encore largement méconnu. Alors que le régime chinois contrôle de plus en plus fermement les modalités d’expression publique, cette analyse du punk explique comment un discours de vérité sur le pouvoir s’est élaboré aux marges de la société chinoise, perpétuant la mémoire des luttes passées et préparant celles à venir.

Reviews / Compte-rendus:

Prize / Prix:

  • IASPM (International Association for the Study of Popular Music) Book Prize 2023

Academic Articles / Articles académiques

2023. Le faussaire du punk chinois. Marc Boulet, les Dragons, et l’invention d’un Orient punk“, Revue de Musicologie, 109/1, pp. 119-140.

In 1982, a vinyl record titled Perfumes of the Revolution by the punk band Dragons, originally from Guangzhou, was released in France. Long considered as the first recording of a punk band from the People’s Republic of China, it is now accepted that the record was an invention of the French journalist Marc Boulet, working for the countercultural magazine Actuel. This article examines a case study of musical forgery, where a French journalist-producer fabricates a Chinese band by mobilizing French rock artists and two Hong Kong musicians he met in Paris. The Dragons album is not just a story of manipulation; it should be recontextualized within the framework of 1980s gonzo journalism, which offered an exotic vision of China and its inhabitants. By analyzing the album produced by Marc Boulet, his interviews at the time, as well as his books and press articles, this article aims to demonstrate how Boulet deceived the French music sphere and how this album is a pure product of the Orientalist imagination of its time.

2022.‘We come from the underground’: grounding Chinese punk in Beijing and Wuhan“, Popular Music, 41/2, pp. 170-193.

The history of the Chinese punk scene in the scientific literature or in retrospective testimonies is traditionally dominated by a Beijing-centric approach, which stresses the importance of Beijing punk bands in the 1990s for the formation of this youth subculture. However, at the same time another punk scene was emerging in Wuhan, and no convincing argument has been provided to explain how, at the same time, in two Chinese cities, a punk movement appeared. Relying on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and collection of data, this article aims to explain how in the mid-1990s young Chinese succeeded into territorialising a foreign subculture in two different Chinese cities.

2020.Navigating and Circumventing (Self)censorship in the Chinese Music Scene“, China Perspectives, 121, pp. 25-33.

Although the case of “censorship” of Chinese hip-hop in January 2018 has led to extensive news coverage in the international press, it does not account for the multiple forms of musical censorship that exist in contemporary China. This article draws on observations from within the punk rock community to outline how censorship works in practice and which institutions are responsible for overseeing musical productions, from the release of albums to the management of concerts and festivals. This overview of censorship mechanisms in the Chinese music scene – including self-censorship required to release albums domestically – will highlight how to circumvent censorship, as well as the extent to which it is possible for artists to negotiate with the authorities.

2020. Editorial “Contesting and Appropriating Chineseness in Sinophone Music”, China Perspectives, 121, pp. 3-6.

2020.Visual Identities of Chinese Punk Rock Through Posters“, Contemporary China Centre Blog, Issue 3, 22 January 2020.

2019. Editorial “Including Music in the Sinophone, Provincializing Chinese Music”, China Perspectives, 118, pp. 3-6.

2018.The Lives of Dakou in China: From Waste to Nostalgia“, Études Chinoises, 37(2), pp. 35-60.

A peculiar object deeply transformed the Chinese cultural sphere in the 1990s: dakou (打口) CDs and tapes. Literally meaning “cut” or “gashed,” the term dakou refers to CDs and tapes illegally sold on the Chinese black market in the 1990s, which had been shipped to China from the West in order to recycle unsold CDs and tapes. To prevent them from being sold on the black market, these CDs and tapes were cut (打) on the edges (口) in order to render them useless. This did not take into account, however, that an audio disc is read from the center to the outer edge, so only the last track was lost. A large part of this musical waste was sold for a cheap price on the black market in large cities in China, in defiance of official censorship, since a lot of Western pop music was forbidden. This paper tackles the question of dakou nostalgia by the members of the “dakou generation” through a study of various accounts, as well as stories and articles that have been published in the past few years, shedding new light on this unprecedented phenomenon.

2018.‘你有freestyle吗?’ (Do you freestyle?) The Roots of Censorship in Chinese Hip-hop“, China Perspectives, 113, pp. 107-113.

2018.Beijing calling. Les punks chinois à l’assaut de la culture officielle“, La Revue du Crieur, 2019/1, pp. 150-159.

2017.Drunk is Beautiful. Boire au bord de l’eau : usage de l’alcool dans la communauté punk chinoise“, Civilisations, 66, 2017, pp. 139-155.

Cet article entend montrer en quoi la consommation d’alcool dans la communauté punk chinoise peut être rattachée à tout un répertoire de pratiques propres aux communautés déviantes du jianghu. Le jianghu, littéralement « rivières et lacs », représente depuis la dynastie des Zhou un espace physique et symbolique où les communautés marginales chinoises se retrouvent pour échapper au pouvoir central. Cette affinité entre punks et jianghu se retrouve dans les liens qui unissent les communautés de punks aux « mafias » locales. La consommation d’alcool sera ainsi analysée dans sa fonction rituelle et sociale, mais aussi politique, l’alcool s’opposant aux efforts de « civilisation » de la population par le gouvernement chinois, et permettant souvent de libérer la parole. L’alcool représente aussi un enjeu méthodologique pour le chercheur : comment se positionner soi-même face au risque de l’ivresse, alors que l’intégration au sein du terrain de recherche demande un engagement corporel total ?

2016.Drunk With City. Les usages de la ville par les punks de Wuhan“, Urbanités, January 2016.

2013.Une histoire politique du punk-rock chinois“, Circé. Histoires, culture & société, June 2013.

2013.Violences de masse en République Populaire de Chine depuis 1949“, Encyclopédie en ligne des violences de masse, 3 January 2013.

2013.Scream For Life. La Chine vue par ses punks“, Z: Revue itinérante d’enquête et de critique sociale, n°7, 2013, pp. 168-173.

2012.Xu Jinglei, nomos de la modernité“, SinoPolis, mars 2012.


Other Articles / Autres articles

2022. Review Essay: “Sonic Plurality in Multicultural Taiwan“, China Perspectives, 130, pp. 77-80.

2021.Between ROC and a Hard Place“, with Brian Hioe, Chen-Yu Lin, Lev Nachman, Miaoju Jian, and Simon Frank, Chaoyang Trap, 28 September 2021.

2021.繼續嚎叫:早期的北京龐克概況“, 失蹤者之城

2021.唱這首歌為你,武漢!武漢龐克歷史“, 失蹤者之城, Vol. 8, 2021, pp. 8-11.

2021.Chez les punks de Lumuo Road“, Le 1, n°327, 16 December 2020.

2020.Xinjiang Rocker Jurat T.T. of the ‘Uyghur Pink Floyd’ on Pain, Childhood and Music“, RadiiChina, 14 April 2020.

2020.From Wuhan to the World: SMZB, China’s Most Outspoken Punks, Return with a New Album“, RadiiChina, 29 September 2020.

2020.We Sing this Song for You, Wuhan! A Short History of Wuhan Punk“, RadiiChina, 11 February 2020.

2020.Keep Screaming. A Brief Account of Early Beijing Punk“, RadiiChina, 22 January 2020.

2019.The Great Chinese Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. How a postmodernist trickster convinced the world that punk rock had reached China in the early ’80s“, RadiiChina, 13 May 2019.

2019.Is China Headed Towards a Future Without Foreign Bands?“, RadiiChina, 27 February 2019.

2018.Piece of garbage complains to China’s Bureau of Culture regarding punk legends SMZB“, Unite Asia, 19 January 2018.

2016.Here’s a Punk City, Wuhan!“, Maximum Rocknroll, December 2016, p. 41-44.


Journal Issues / Numéros de revues

2020.Sinophone Musical Worlds (2): The Politics of Chineseness“, China Perspectives, 121(2).


Book Chapters / Chapitres d’ouvrages

2022. “‘Anarchy in the PRC’: Anarchist practices and references in the Chinese punk movement”, in Jim Donaghey, Will Boisseau, Caroline Kaltefleiter (eds.), Smash the System! Punk Anarchism as a Culture of Resistance, Karlovac: Active Distribution, pp. 407-433.

2021.江湖大逃亡“, in Clément Renaud et Dino Ge Zhang (eds.), (Un)Locked: Memories of Wuhan, Scale, 2021, pp. 27-36.

2021.Radical Participation: The Politics of Performance in Chinese Punk-Rock Concerts“, in Damien Charrieras and François Mouillot (eds.), Fractured Scenes. Underground Music-Making in Hong Kong and East Asia, Hong Kong: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021, pp. 189-203.

2019.Soul of Chinese Cops. Les punks chinois face à la police“, in Paul Edwards, Elodie Grossi and Paul Schor (eds.), Disorder. Histoire sociale des mouvements punks & post-punk, Paris: Seteun, 2019, pp. 181-198.

2015. “La communauté punk en Chine : entre réinterprétation d’une contre-culture et dissidence”, in Bernard Lacroix, Xavier Landrin, Anne-Marie Pailhès, Caroline Rolland-Diamond (eds.), Les contre-cultures. Genèses, circulations, pratiques, Paris: Syllepse, 2015, pp. 475-489.


Book Reviews / Recensions

2023. Review of Meredith Schweig, Renegade Rhymes: Rap Music, Narrative, and Knowledge in Taiwan, The China Quarterly 253: 285-286.

2023. Review of Adam Kielman, Sonic Mobilities. Producing Worlds in Southern China, Popular Music 42(1): 107-109.

2023. Review of Andrew F. Jones, Circuit Listening: Chinese Popular Music in the Global 1960s, Journal of World Popular Music 10(1): 131-133.

2020. Review of Paul Barclay, Outcasts of Empire. Japan’s Rule on Taiwan’s “Savage Border”, 1874–1945, H-Soz-Kult.

2017. Review of Yiu-Wai Chu, Hong Kong Cantopop: A Concise History, China Perspectives, 112, pp. 63-64.


Academic Thesis / Thèse et mémoires

2015.Scream for Life : usages politiques de la culture en Chine : échanges et résistance au sein de communautés alternatives : le cas des punks et des cinéastes indépendants“, Doctorat en science politique, CERI Sciences Po Paris, 451 p.

2012.De l’usage de la rédemption. Réactualisation des concepts de la Kabbale dans les écrits de Tiqqun“, Mémoire de master 2 en philosophie contemporaine, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, 93 p.

2011.Contester et réguler. Mutations de pouvoir, réorganisation urbaine et résistance à Pékin“, Mémoire de master 2 en science politique, Sciences Po Paris, 130 p.


Audio/Video

2024. “La scène punk en Chine avec Nathanel Amar”, Emission “Musiques en lutte”, Radio Libertaire, 25 avril 2024.

2023.C’est notre utopie! Les collectifs punk en Chine“, Exposition à la Vieille Charité, 20-24 septembre 2023, Festival Allez Savoir, EHESS: vidéo documentaire de 23 mn.

2023.Les espaces nomades des collectifs punk dans le monde sinophone“, avec Laurent Grün et Isabelle Thireau, Festival Allez Savoir 2023, EHESS.

2023.Le punk en Chine populaire : crier contre la censure“, Revue Traits-d’Union, 31 mai 2023.

2023.Le punk chinois, une contre-culture musicale“, TV5 Monde, 2 April 2023.

2022. Avides de Recherche: “Des Punks en Chine ?! Musique, alcool et déviance”, YouTube.

2022.Voyage au sein de la contre-culture punk en Chine populaire“, Radio Taiwan International, May 2022.

2022.一個法國人對大陸朋克的探索:法國現代中國研究中心研究員馬泰然專訪“, Radio Taiwan International, April 2022.

2022. Conversation with Peng Lei (University of Liverpool): “Subversive Incident and a Gesture of Refusal: Dakou and Underground Music in the Early 21st Century in the PRC”, CEFC Taipei.

2021. Conversation with Grégoire Bienvenu (Paris 3): “Chinese Rappers React to Covid-19. Spitting Bars in the First Months of the Pandemic”, CEFC Taipei.

2021. Conversation with Andrew F. Jones (UC Berkeley): “Circuit Listening: Chinese Popular Music in the Global 1960s”, CEFC Taipei.

2021. Pirate tapes and Kurt Cobain. Inventing Punk Music in 1990s China“, PIND/PSN, décembre 2021.

2021. Series of four radio shows on Radio Taiwan International on music censorship in Taiwan (in French), December 2021:
Connaissez-vous la première chanson censurée de Taïwan ?
Après la Seconde Guerre mondiale, une censure des chansons chaotique
L’apparition du campus folk au défi de la censure
La dernière chanson censurée, une ode à l’exaltation

2021.Punk in Wuhan. Punk Music in Wuhan, Then and Now“, Fernostwärts Podcast, 7 February 2021.


In the Media

A Chinese flavor of rap music is flourishing as emerging musicians find their voices”, by Huizhong Wu in Associated Press, 3 May 2024.

“88rising Brings Its ’Asian Coachella’ to China’s Notoriously Tricky Entertainment Scene”, by Chad de Guzman and Koh Ewe in Time, 22 September 2023.

“Shijiazhuang rebrands itself as the Chinese capital of rock ‘n’ roll”, by Zhao Yuanyuan in The China Project, 26 July 2023.

“Le punk chinois, une contre-culture musicale”, TV5 Monde, 2 April 2023.

“« Révolution A4 » en Chine : pourquoi les manifestants brandissent des feuilles blanches”, by Marianne Meunier in La Croix, 29 November 2022.

Avides de Recherche: “Des Punks en Chine ?! Musique, alcool et déviance”, YouTube, October 2022.

“Memories of bloody past push Taiwanese arts forward”, by Marco Ferrarese in Nikkei Asia, 3 April 2022.

“Kris Wu’s Career in Jeopardy as China Cracks Down on ‘Tainted Artists’”, by Hsiuwen Liu in Billboard, 12 August 2021.

“中共百年大慶的糟糕祝壽禮:百位說唱歌手參與的紀念單曲”, in Initium Media, 6 July 2021.

“100 Chinese Rappers Salute ‘Lit’ Nation on Communist Party’s 100th Birthday”, by Hsiuwen Liu in Billboard, 1st July 2021.

“For Its 100th Birthday, China’s Communist Party Gets a Bad Rap”, by Eva Xiao in Wall Street Journal, 1st July 2021.

“En Chine, le rap se veut patriotique”, in La Dépêche, 24 June 2021.

“China’s rappers are writing patriotic rhymes for the Communist Party’s 100th birthday”, by Jane Li in Quartz, 22 June 2021.

“Le bulldozer culturel chinois. De Confucius aux nouvelles routes de la soie”, by Antoine Pecqueur in La Revue du Crieur, n°18, 2021/1, pp. 90-101.

“Wuhan Calling: How the City’s Punk Rock Scene Changed China’s Youth”, by Jessica Novia in South China Morning Post, 20 January 2021.

“Why China’s hip-hop stars are staying silent on Black Lives Matter”, by Viola Zhou in Inkstone, 19 June 2020.

“A Taïwan, la présidente qui dit non à la Chine remporte haut la main un second mandat”, by François Bougon in Mediapart, 11 January 2020.

“Hong Kong: La musique au cœur de la révolte”, by Florence de Changy in La Lettre du Musicien, 30 October 2019

“Le rap dans le collimateur des autorités chinoises”, by Cyrille Pluyette in Le Figaro, 28 February 2018

“La Chine veut lutter contre le hip-hop moralement nuisible”, by Rosa Brostra in Le Temps, 1 February 2018

“In Wuhan, Punk’s Not Dead”, by Lin Qiqing in Sixth Tone, 20 December 2016

“Le punk chinois n’est pas (encore) mort”, by Adrien Toffolet in Society, February 2016, p. 56-61.

“Anarchy in the People’s Republic say Chinese punks”, by Julien Girault in AFP, 8 October 2014

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