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Sounding OFF: The Fate of Hip-Hop Culture in China

Sounding OFF

Given the history of violence and crime in rap music, it’s not far-fetched to think that the Chinese government would have an issue with anyone depicting or glorifying hip-hop culture. Recently the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television of the People’s Republic of China (SAPPRFT) announced that it “specifically requires that programs should not feature actors with tattoos [or depict] hip-hop culture, sub-culture (non-mainstream culture) and dispirited culture (decadent culture).”

According to the Chinese news outlet SinaGao Changli, director of propaganda and publicity, said there are four “don’ts” the media must now abide by: 

#1) Absolutely do not use actors whose heart and morality are not aligned with the party and whose morality is not noble
#2) Absolutely do not use actors who are tasteless, vulgar and obscene
#3) Absolutely do not use actors whose ideological level is low and have no class
#4) Absolutely do not use actors with stains, scandals and problematic moral integrity

The ban was announced immediately following the sudden and unexplained removal of rapper GAI from one of China’s hit talent competition, Singer, and all videos of the singers were removed from the station’s official YouTube channel.

GAI, whose real name is Zhou Yan, was the previous winner of another popular Chinese gameshow, The Rap of China. The show has been getting a lot of attention for its open promotion of hip-hop music, but when GAI’s music suddenly disappeared without a trace, it was heavily implicated that he quit due to “pressure from above.”

This is not the first—nor will it likely be the last—of China’s attempts to try and censor an entire culture based on providing a voice to the disenfranchised. Another contestant by the name PG One was forced by the state media to apologize for his song “Christmas Eve,” which was criticised by members of the Communist Youth League for its misogynistic lyrics and promotion of drug use.

According to the BBC, he became faced with such immense pressure that he ultimately removed his entire music catalog from the internet. In a post translated from his official Weibo microblog account, he blames his lyrics on influence from “black music.”

“As I grow up, I feel that I should enhance my sense of social responsibility, values, and commonwealth, and should also serve as a better role model for fans,” PG One says, promising that his future work will be geared to “more positive energy” and “core ideas.”

The statement sparked outrage from hip-hop fans across the country, who were disappointed that he would blame Black culture, while others were quick to defend him, pointing out the topics are fairly common but do not provide an accurate depiction of himself in real life.

The thing is that neither are true. Yes, hip-hop has always been credited to African-American culture, but it is important to remember that it began as a way to bring together the disenfranchised masses. Violence, drugs, money, misogyny only became a subject matter when society declared a “War on Drugs.” Hip-Hop music also provides commentary on society’s ills and that is something the Chinese government cannot tolerate.

After the news of China’s Hip-Hop ban made it stateside, a number of rappers spoke out against the government’s incorrect and offensive depiction of Black culture.

However, other users such as Ajit Singh, feel that China’s decision was not intentionally racist. He tweeted, “they want to curb the superficial appropriation of African-American culture, which divorced from its progressive historical context has led to some chauvinistic Chinese hip-hop promoting sexism and glorifying wealth and hedonism.”

Is it possible that the government was trying to prevent the appropriation of Chinese rap artists into American culture? Could it be that they fear Chinese rap will become like K-Pop is today? I highly doubt it. China isn’t exactly known for a lack of censorship.

No. Much like the racism we’ve seen spread all over the world, there are no “two sides” because this issue is very much the same. Its based entirely on “fear.” The exact same fear we’ve seen divide cultures throughout history. If China truly wanted to show that it supports the culture, and not just its canned version of what it thinks the culture should be than maybe it is about time to ease back the censorship and get with the 21st century already.

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