“To see Cui Jian to perform at the new year gala is like to hear that your first love has become a prostitute.” Such is the reaction of many rock fans in China when they first learned the news that “the father of Chinese rock” Cui Jian would perform at 2014’s lunar new year show by China Central TV (CCTV).
The good news to many is that it won’t happen. According to You You, Cui Jian’s manager, the rock star has already rejected the invitation because he was refused permission to sing the unofficial anthem of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest Nothing to My Name.
Last Thursday, during the show’s first full rehearsal, Cui was listed as the singer of Huafang Guniang (Greenhouse Girl), another of his classics. Many suspected that Cui has kowtowed to state censors. But just one day later on Friday, Cui’s manager said that the singer won’t stand on the stage of the lunar new year show.
Since its inception in the early 1980s, CCTV’s new year gala has become a staple for Lunar New Year celebration in China. Many stars, including those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, see invitations to join the show as an honor and a shortcut to a larger fan base in mainland China. But as the Chinese become accustomed to more variety of entertainment, the show has become widely criticized for its highly censored “ass-kissing” performance that aim more at pleasing the authorities than the people.
Saying no the show has apparently brought Cui Jian more respect. “Persistence is the highest form of self-respect,” commented today by Chinese media Caijing on Cui’s decision, referring to his (politically) repellent style. As another netizen 桂人路问 explained: “Changing yourself in order to perform at the show means bigger fame. Staying true to yourself and saying no means more respect from fans.”
Though there are netizens who think that Nothing to My Name doesn’t fit into the celebrating atmosphere of a new year show, most hailed his rejection because “a rock star shouldn’t sing praises of a corrupt government.”
One netizen 等待戈多555555 commented: “I’d rather see a Cui Jian with nothing to his name than one singing Greenhouse Girl on the new year gala. He ages, but the spirit of rock should never age. His anger should never age.” Another netizen 演员蔡明宇 commented: “It’s a shame for a real artist to perform at the new year gala.” Netizen 江湖不点灯 was more blatant: “Chinese Central TV doesn’t deserve a song that was sang at the Tiananmen Square that year.”
The song at question Nothing to My Name has been widely interpreted as a reflection of the political sentiment among Chinese youth in the 1980s. The song addresses to a girl, asking “when will you come with me,” implying that she rejects the singer for having nothing to his name, though he promises to “give her his hopes and to bring her freedom.”
While many people view it as a love song, many more understand it as a political metaphor, depicting the sense of loss of a generation of youth who enjoyed no individuality or personal freedom. The song was first released in 1986 and had become the “battle song” among student protesters in 1989. In a sense, the lyrics are still relevant today, though in a more literal form. One of the biggest complaints of today’s Chinese youth is that they have nothing to their name, unable to afford a home or even a wife.
Earlier today, it was found by NuiB on Twitter that Cui Jian’s website was down. He has been sanctioned by the Chinese government for many years after 1989. Will his current trouble with the new year show bring him more retaliation? Let’s hope not.