Punk Music Scene in China: ‘China Calling!’ (Video)

Chinese girl smoking cigarette.


It turns out that the key to the forbidden city is punk. Who knew?

“We’re here to perform at this punk concert.”

“I like punk because it means freedom.”

“It’s rebellious.”

“You do what you feel like.”

“In China, there’s too much compromise. But those who can really enjoy this music have it in their blood. They don’t want to compromise.”

“China is at a stage where young people need release. Everything is happening in China now, so is punk.”

Chinese signs: "Toilet" and "Live Music"

China’s first punk scene arose in the mid-1990’s with influential Chinese bands such as Underbaby and P.K. 14.

Gao Wei, Underbaby: “In 1993, I listed to the Sex Pistols and to music from the 60’s and 70’s. I thought their music really went with what I was trying to express. In 1993, that kind of music was scarce in China.”

Yang Haisong, P.K. 14: “We were in our 20’s and wanted to be different. To do wild things. The Sex Pistols and The Clash were talking about the 70’s in England. But we were talking about the 90’s in China and confronting China’s realities.”

Gao Yang, Underbaby: “When we wanted to perform, we’d have to find other bands. No one was coming to recruit us. Not like now, where there’s a lot of venues. It was truly DIY back then. Now it’s about money.”

Gao Wei: “At every concert, we’d be the only punk band. Half would be heavy metal bands, the other half would be blues bands. The audience would get ready to head bang. But then we’d come on stage and they’d be like, “What’s going on?” After a while, we started organizing concerts with a full punk lineup. People then started having fun. They realized this music wasn’t so formulaic. You could move, dance whichever way you felt.”

Yang Haisong: “When we first started listening to Sex Pistols or PiL, we never thought they’d one day come to China. Who could have imagined?”

Gao Yang: “It just wasn’t a possibility.”

What would you ask Johnny Rotten?

Gao Wei: “Do you like the food in Beijing?”

Yang Haisong: “Isn’t he a vegetarian?”

Chinese punk band on stage.

John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) and his post-punk band Public Image Ltd recently performed to a sold-out crowd in Beijing.

John Lydon: “Yes I love Chinese food!”

“Hello, Beijing!”

“Nice to see ya!”

John Lydon: “For me, all of China was a forbidden city until your government approved us. Hello, China! We were surprised that the authorities approved our lyrical content because we’re not shy of a fact or two in life.”

“Thank you for your pollution!”

John Lydon: “It was very very difficult because there was no oxygen in the building…there’s no oxygen anywhere in Beijing.

John Lydon: “We picked a strange set, didn’t we? I mean, to start with Four Enclosed Walls, didn’t know how that would go over. But it was a smart move because we showed you we could go into places people just have no concept about musically.”

John Lydon: “What I love most of life performing is to be able to look into people’s faces and connect in a really deeply personal way. And I could see that in the audience, they knew what I was intending in the vocal delivery. You might not understand the language but you understand emotions. And that’s what tonight was, a really really healthy sharing of emotions, across what we call cultural divides. There are no divides. We are all from one place. So thank you. I got a little tear in me eye now.”

John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) and Public Image Ltd on stage in Beijing, China.


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