Feature: Chinese music bands rock NYC with ever-evolving tapestry of Chinese youth culture

By Liu Yanan, Yang Shilong, Xing Yue (Xinhua) 13:16, November 29, 2023

NEW YORK, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- The two-day Chinese rock and folk music festival, "Friends From The East," was held in New York City over the weekend, drawing thousands of fans, mainly those in their 20s and 30s.

So passionate was the fans' enthusiasm that they lined up along the sidewalk leading to the venue, the Knockdown Center in Queens borough, braving the cold wind and rain, hours before the show started.

Among those that had come from afar was Allan Yong, a PhD candidate at Carleton University who flew in from Ottawa, Canada, to join both nights of live concerts, staged by four renowned Chinese rock bands, namely the Omnipotent Youth Society (Wanqing), Wu Tiao Ren, the Landlord's Cats and Miserable Faith.


"Wanqing has blown my mind. The live concert is very different from their record, and you will have to come in person to experience the difference," Yong told Xinhua on Monday via WeChat, referring to the band formed in 1996 in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, an industrial city in northern China.

Yong, who flew in early Monday, said the trip has paid off as this is the first time for him to attend a live Chinese rock band concert since he left China for university in the early 2000s.

"To me, Chinese bands are like Chinese cuisine, no matter where I am, or how many genres of music I have enjoyed, the music created by these bands will always play an important role in my daily life," said Yong, looking forward to more shows from Chinese bands in North America. "The contemporary nature of these modern bands, always reminds me how much China has developed in past decades."

Liu Fang, now studying at Cornell University, agreed that attending these performances was not just about enjoying music; it was a journey back to their roots, a chance to feel at home and unleash their inner voices.

"I not only felt at home but also, more importantly, found a sense of belonging," said Liu, a fan of Wu Tiao Ren, a veteran group of folk-rockers from south China's Guangdong Province.

"You will reflect on your own life when you listen to Wu Tiao Ren's musical pieces which depict everyday life," said Liu.

The festival even reignited Liu's dream of forming a band with her friend Xue Rui, now working in New York City.

"It's a unique opportunity for people to let out their voices, and the performances of (the Chinese) artists bring warmth to people of Chinese origin who study, work, or live here," said Xue.


The music festival is really very important for more U.S. students to gain exposure to Chinese youth culture, said Harry Shaheen, an East Asian Studies major at Harvard University.

"Though some foreigners may be aware of China's rich traditional culture and long history, they are not familiar with Chinese youth's cyber culture and rock music," said Shaheen, a student studying China and Central Asia at Harvard University.

Shaheen, who became a fan of Chinese rock music while studying in China as an exchange student, believes the music festival is crucial for more U.S. students to get a glimpse of Chinese youth culture.

"Rock music from China and the United States don't have significant differences while Chinese rock music has elements of traditional Chinese culture," he said.

"Besides Japan and the Republic of Korea, China also has this kind of culture, that's very interesting. I hope the performance of Chinese bands would enable more Americans to know and experience such shows," said Shaheen.

Shaheen said he already introduced these Chinese bands to his friends and translated lyrics into English for others to better understand the uniqueness of this kind of music.

Chinese rock music features the enthusiasm of youth, which has many aspirations for the future, according to Shaheen. He said, "I hope their thoughts will spread out."

"You don't have to understand what the lyrics are in the song to feel like you can relate to the music," said Elizabeth Snett, a fashion designer from New York City. "If we didn't come out tonight. We would have never known these bands and I'm really grateful for this experience."

Her friends Sylvie Staiger and Tina Tiehen also were impressed by the Chinese artists.

"Regardless of the language, you can definitely recognize talent by the production, the instruments, just the way each artist and band member has their certain persona and how they like to perform," said Tiehen who came from Chicago.

"I'm so excited to share with my friends these bands because you learn something new every day and I just discovered these bands tonight. That's so exciting," said Stagier, who works on theatrical literary management in New York City.


The festival acts as a cultural bridge, allowing the world to witness the evolution of Chinese rock music as it has become an integral part of the global music scene, said Li Hongjie, founder of Friends From The East, who now lives in Los Angeles.

At the heart of their performances, these bands seamlessly blend traditional Chinese elements with contemporary sounds, creating a melody that is both rooted in history and forward-looking, Li said.

As these bands toured major cities in the United States, they brought with them not just melodies but an insight into the soul of a generation that is navigating the complexities of contemporary China, breaking down stereotypes and offering an authentic portrayal of the intricate, ever-evolving tapestry of Chinese youth culture, said Li.

"Their lyrics, often a reflection of personal and collective experiences, transcend linguistic boundaries, connecting with listeners on a universal level," he said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Xian Jiangnan)


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