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.”

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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.”

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

Written by Crane.tv

Crane.tv is a contemporary-culture video magazine, focusing on arts, design, style, food and travel around the world.

Launched in 2010, Crane.tv comprises a talented team of journalists, videographers, producers and digital marketers — gifted storytellers who present emerging and established creative scenes from around the world.

  • haha, the lead singer of 蜜三刀 where he loves to be

    • Misandao are great, I saw them a couple of times in Shanghai and they really know how to rock a show.

  • fuck yeah!

    • I really don’t give a shit about Johnny Rotten though

  • BiggJ

    Hey hey, my my.

  • Punk rock, yo! Charlie don’t surf!

    • Boris

      Let me tell you ’bout your blood family, kid. It ain’t Coca Cola, it’s rice.
      Song of the article:
      Chinese Rock
      -Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, Marky.

      • Thor

        “Chinese Rocks” is from (the late) Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreackers.

        • James

          written mostly by dee dee ramone

          • Boris

            Dee Dee was in the Dolls? You’re shitting me?

          • James

            nah that was poindexter

          • Johnny Ramone

            Yup, and Richard Hell of The Heartbreakers.

  • fsck

    Government approved Punk, is not Punk. Fact.

    Johnny “Sell Out” Rotten lost all credability in the Punk scene when he did butter adverts. Anyone that advertises anything, ever, is a sell out. End of story.

    Until these bands accept Punk is anti-establishment and are willing to be thrown in jail for their music, they are not Punk. Pussy Riot is more Punk than these pussies, and thats saying something..

    • mr.wiener

      You have to be worth something before you can sell out, it’s all very well for some to scold when they never did it, lived it or risked it. There really are few elderly statesmen for punk and that’s the way it should be.

      • fsck

        I agree, the ones who rock the hardest all die young. Keith Moon and Sid Vicious to name but two. Also I love Johnny Rotten, but there was none of his previous fire in the recent performances I saw. If his lyrics were approved but the Chinese government, then there is very little in them worth hearing. Thats my opinion, the same goes for the other punk bands playing in China, I dont doubt their musical ability. Only that like most Chinese people, they probably missed the point – Punk is sticking your middle finger up at the government and society, I doubt very much they are doing that, but I would be happy to be proved wrong. But judging by the people I saw in that video I doubt I will be.

        Also, FYI I have been there and done it. I played the UK circuit for about 8 years, unfortuantly we didn’t go anywhere because, well, we weren’t very good. But we did have passion.

        • mr.wiener

          You aren’t a punk by the time you are 20, you have no heart.
          You haven’t stopped being a punk by the time you are 30, you have no head.

          • MrT

            we all seen what Thatcher did to punk, that was the start of the police state UK

          • And the end of the unions!

        • jixiang

          They are sticking up their finger at society. Not at the government, for the simple fact that they are not allowed to.

        • Justin

          Sid Vicious rocked the hardest? He was a no-talent piece of shit junkie who could barely play an instrument. He sucked so bad that they kept his amp unplugged most of the time. If having no musical talent and being famous only for your looks makes you a punk, then I guess he was a punk.

          • mr.wiener

            That was punk in a nutshell.

    • Pistachio

      How come you capitalise punk?

      • fsck

        Punk is a name, you capitalise proper-nouns. Also, you can’t use them in Scrabble.

        • Justin

          it’s the name of a genre, not a person’s name, and therefore not a proper noun and definitely not a proper-noun. I hope you’re here to teach lessons in “Punk” history and not English grammar and punctuation because you don’t know shit about that.

    • Teufel

      The heart of punk is non-conformity and self expression. These people didn’t have the privilege of growing up in the West in the 70s and 80s. By saying that they are not punk because they do not conform to YOUR standards (“willing to be thrown in jail for their music” – what a bunch of childish bullshit), you are being a stereotypical elitist hypocrite. That’s the exact behavior which you should supposedly hate. Great job, retard.

      • samort7

        “A 16 year-old girl from an affluent religious family who consistently shows up to church on Sunday with her green mohawk and Fuck Jesus shirt is punk. But so is a 42 year old biology professor who claims that Charles Darwin’s ideas were wrong. Neither person has ever heard of, nor met, one another, nor hung out together at the same underground club. And yet their challenge to established institutions and revulsion to dogmatic thinking links them spiritually.”
        ~Greg Graffin

        • So a teen begging for shock-value attention and a biology professor who absolutely sucks at biology, are punk? Punk sounds pretty dumb now. Thanks for ruining it, Greg Graffin.

          • samort7

            He saying that challenging established institutions is what punk really is. Not accepting the status quo and always asking questions. Even if those questions turn out to be wrong. Never agreeing with something just because someone tells you to. Finding truth for yourself.

        • jixiang

          Why the attack on Darwin? Accepting the theory of evolution is no more dogmatic than accepting that the earth rotates around the sun.

    • Johnny Ramone

      The Ramones are Punk. All else is dog shit.

      • lostalien

        you are kidding i think because many 80 bands are pure punk.
        most shite in china isn’t real punk and nor is PIL.

        The Exploited, GBH, peter and the test tubes, the toy dolls are some names i think of now.

        Chicago has some great punk bands.

        Naked Raygun is one of the best.

      • lostalien

        Let’s not forget The Dead Kennedys.

        you claim they are not a punk band? hahah

  • People who don’t know that China has a good independent music scene with loads of good bands, two decent Beijing labels (Modern Sky and Maybe Mars), festivals, venues and weekly shows in many cities, esp. BJ and Shanghai, including punk, post-punk and metal etc = people with their head up their asses. I was at the Strawberry festival yesterday in Shanghai, it was a major event with thousands of local kids there. There were Beijing ‘underground’ rock bands like Hedgehog and Second Hand Rose playing to huge crowds at the main stage. The Chinese site for tracking all the bands and shows is Douban.com

    • Yeah, it’s good…for China. That’s not really a complaint or anything. But if your thing is (everything you listed), you’ll appreciate China’s independent music scene if you’re living in China, but wouldn’t confuse yourself to think that it’s anything too amazing.

      • No way. PK14 and Duck Fight Goose, to name only two, are as good as anything I like from other scenes globally for sure. In fact, around the world, all scenes, proportionally are about 50% amateurish, new or inexperienced bands, 40% good or solid acts but not setting the world on fire and about 10% great. On that front, China is doing pretty well.

        • China isn’t exactly famous for it’s music, aside from those who somehow manage to like the screeching cacophony they call “pop”. Name a few bands that are actually known outside of China. Now compare it to how many other bands from the different Laowailand factions being well known in China.

          I’ve photographed I don’t know how many bands and shows in the past (it’s what I use to do for spare cash) in the US, China, and Taiwan…and yeah there were some decent bands in China, some I really enjoyed…but most of it seemed like they were trying way too hard, or just phoning it in. Of course, this is all opinion and personal taste, but I wouldn’t say we have our heads up our asses if we do not think that China is standing toe to toe with the countries that most of these genres are originating in and more widely known in.

          • Not talking about punk in particular. Like Wiener said above, most punk rock is knock-off these days anyhow.

          • Mainland China music isn’t world famous because there’s no comparable industry, due to lack of legal structure and the gov attitude to culture. Also, I said that people who are completely unaware of the scene have their heads up their asses, nothing about “toe to toe.” I’m fine with you personally not liking any of the bands, there’s no need to start making things up that I supposedly said. I stand by my previous comment on the percentages and that bands like PK14 are good enough as an individual entity.

          • Relax, no need to get upset about bands. I didn’t say I don’t like any of them. I said there were some that I really enjoyed. Asia is just mostly a desert of good music (again, unless you consider mass produced pop girl groups to be “good music”). You get a few that make it relatively big, like Chthonic in Taiwan or Boris in Japan, for example, but these days there’s ways for bands to gain notoriety. The internet, for example, is a pretty useful tool and I doubt this is lost on any Chinese bands.

            Considering there are well known Chinese artists in other forms of art, I don’t think the Chinese government’s attitude towards culture is the sole responsibility for keeping artists unknown to the rest of the world. As far as legal structure, notoriety is what I am talking about, not record sales.

            I was use to Austin before I went to China, perhaps I was a bit spoiled.

          • jixiang

            There is a bit of decent modern Chinese pop and rock music, although I will agree that if falls short of the best Western music. Much of it comes from Taiwan. Look at songs like One night in 北京 or 酒干倘卖无.

          • oh my god, I hate One Night in Beijing with a passion.
            However, speaking of Taiwan, their band Chthonic (閃靈樂團) is fantastic. I saw them in Dallas some years ago. Great show. That is, if you’re into metal. They have some really creative videos, and their bassist (Doris) is pretty hot.

          • jixiang

            Why do you hate One Night in Beijing? I think 信乐团’s version is the greatest Chinese rock song ever. No kidding. Do you know of any other contenders for such a title? Only 一无所有 comes to my mind.

          • I dunno, to me it just sounds like the noise a cat would make if you skinned it really quickly and threw it into a bag of salt. Gruesome imagery, I know, but that’s about the same amount of cringe I get from hearing the song. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s popular and all…just not my type. I listen to metal a lot, so my favorite song out of all of Asia…I think would have to be Chthonic – Broken Jade.

          • jixiang

            It’s unfair to make that comparison. Foreign bands known in China sing in English. How many bands who don’t sing in English are well known outside of their linguistic area? That goes for Chinese ones, for Arab ones, for Japanese ones and for Italian ones.

          • Well, that really annoying Gangnam Style song got really popular outside of South Korea, didn’t it? It’s just one song, but there are several others throughout the years.

            However, this was in response to Andy’s percentages and comparing in a way that made it look like it rivals music coming out of any other country.

          • jixiang

            It can happen that a non-English song gets well known throughout the world, but it’s unusual. Name a Japanese song known outside of Japan.

          • Well, if you’re into experimental rock, there’s always the Japanese band Boris. Seen them twice. Pretty good band. “Statement” seems to be their most popular.

          • jixiang

            And by the way, when I went to karaoke in Vietnam, I found that many Vietnamese youths do seem to know not a few Chinese pop songs, as well as Korean ones.

          • ScottLoar

            Perhaps because Southeast Asia has lots of overseas Chinese and so songs in Cantonese and Mandarin are common fare in karaoke, and also because those songs populate the DVD’s played in karaoke. Korean songs are less well known but the advantage is those (atrocious) Korean girl or boy bands that twenty-somethings in East and Southeast Asia cannot seem to live without do propagandize Korean pop.

          • linette lee

            I think vietnamese people watch a lot of chinese dramas and films. If you go to youtube you will see there are so many remake of chinese songs into vietnamese version sung by their vietnamese singers. I noticed so many popular jay chou songs got remake into vietnamese version. I wonder if Jay knows that they used so many of the songs he has written. Is it legal? What about copyrights?

          • linette lee
          • linette lee
          • I’m sure they do. But, I’m not Vietnamese, and my comparisons before were pretty much just the western music scenes, namely US and Canada.

            In fact, if you come to the US and go to karaoke in Chinatown, for example, you can also find a lot of Chinese/Vietnamese/Taiwanese/Korean pop songs.

    • Molly

      Strawberry music fest is just another tacky pop commercial money making machine, fucking stupid and fake, fiy modern sky records owned by bunch of hypocrites who would sexual harass any girl on the scene, fake mother fuckers get the fuck out! If you want some good rock music, go to midi, don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you people calling yourself rock when playing cheesy pop duh!

      • Of course I know Midi and harder rock groups in China. The band I have seen the most here, who I have seen every time they came to Shanghai, starting with 2004, is The Subs. Also everyone on the China scene knows all the ridiculous behavior of both Modern Sky and Midi at times. I’m fine with you liking Midi over Modern Sky, but the point was not to say that Modern Sky are better – only to give an example that China does have a scene with bands. Are you Molly from the band BtDL? If yes, I have also watched and enjoyed your band twice. Good stuff.

  • garbo

    Punk rock in China? Pose, pose, pose, copy, copy, copy. That sums up punk rock in China.

    • mr.wiener

      I thought that summed up most punk rock in general?

      • xiaobai

        Well, at least in Xi’an every punk band I’ve managed to hear sounds exactly like Rancid. At least in other scenes there are people ripping off more than one band.

        • mr.wiener

          give it a generation.

        • Cardinal Guzman

          Do you have the name for any of these Xian punk bands? I would like to hear them.

  • Hyphenated Beijinger

    the current climate in China is terrible for any type of original art/media content. Plagiarism rules the day.

  • punk444

    How can there be Punk-music, when you are not allowed to shout “Fuck the Government” or “All Cops are Bastards” without going to jail?

    • Germandude

      How could there be Punk-music, if it was socially acceptable to doing so?

      • Punk-lite?!

        • Germandude

          Donno, European punk was destroyed in the beginning/mid 90s when everybody and their mothers decided that wearing Ranger boots and listening to “The Exploited” (don’t forget wearing a T-shirt of them) would be qualifying to be considered a punk. Bands like Green Day ran for the money that MTV threw at them and surfed on the wave.
          Punk is dead. Long time.

          • Agree about Green Day, but the 80’s were great…Charlie don’t surf, and we think HEEEE should:)

          • Thor

            Green Day have never been remotely a punk band. To me, in the early 90s, the Pixies were an actual punk band and they still are. They sold a bloody lot of records but at least they didn’t whore themselves to please MTV.

          • I want my, I want my……

          • Germandude

            Obviously, I am not that familiar with US/UK punk, but more with German punk. What happened in Germany however was that the most famous punk bands that were popular in the scene went commercial, gaining money through cd’s/MTV video clips, rather than their concerts. That again obviously contradicted with the spirit of punk, being a movemenet, revoluting against the mainstream.

          • markl

            Song of the article: Slime – Deutschland muss sterben

          • Thor

            My favourite German punk/post punk band remains X Mal Deutschland. We need them back now !

          • Boris

            How can you possibly write that when Berlin spawned Neubauten?

          • mr.wiener

            Love Neubauten.

          • James

            I always thought of Green Day as a wannabe punk band when “alternative” (whatever that means, but includes punk, as well as many other styles of music) became mainstream circa the early-mid 90’s.
            Never was much for the pixies

    • MrT

      they do every day and the police ignore them, didn’t you know ffs

  • Taco Johnson

    I didn’t sell out, I bought in.

  • Good to see Chinese from Asia enjoying something different than the usual ludicrous love song (or Wang Leehom). No need to be an elite punk enthusiast in order to enjoy punk music. The meaning and the essence of punk may be lost, but watching the Chinese head banging and in mosh pit is heart warming.

    • fsck

      You are missing the point of Punk, like all those in the video above. Punks would destory those “rebels” in the video for nothing but fun, smokin’ wid’ cigerettes != Punk. You and The Chinese missed the point again. People can head bang all they want to Nu Metal. But dont call it Punk if you cant understand the meaning of Punk. Go join Adam at his “Strawberry Festival” I’m sure there are more your kind of “artist” there

      • PixelPulse

        You have very strong feelings about punk.

  • ScottLoar

    You folks in Beijing like 羊肉串? Bad news comin’ your way.

  • MrT

    all the dead beat hasbeens come to china in hope to find fame and money again.
    I found fame! fuck knows where the money is thou…

  • Reginald

    The thing is that in other countries, Punk became something else and grew into other genres whereas in China its been stagnant for over 20 years because they can’t innovate. Its about time the endless stream of foreign wannabe documentary makers realised that punk that isn’t at the cutting edge of protest, is just castrated aping. The same with rap in China, it ceased to be anything innovative in 2004.

  • vonskippy

    China – 30 years out of step with the REAL modern world.

    Learn to create instead of imitate and some day you too might be a REAL world leader.

    Until then, you’re the embarrassing copycat of the world, trying to look badass and instead just looking bad, sad, and oh so pathetic.

  • I went to a lot of punk shows in Shanghai and Beijing and I am missing these good times now. Here are a few photos: http://www.marcelmuench.de/works/china-music/

  • Cyberia

    so many edgyyy people in this comment section

  • “Love and adore all of it, but a slave to none of it.” John Lydon.

  • Crazycook

    Punk …. humm rebellious yes. fun at some point. a way of life. for those who see it as an escape from oppression . I think now in 2013 its a way to vent all the shit that you have kept inside.. it doesn’t matter if it is punk , rock, metal as long as u have your way out with music. Someone who talks too much about punk is not that punk either hahahahaha.. just kidding. going to listen to some blues now

  • mikemystery

    you know nothing fsck snow

  • Cardinal Guzman

    In Norway punk has been reduced to a tiny cult.

    A small cult where you need to wear the correct type of clothing, listen to the correct bands and most importantly have the correct political opinions in able to be accepted.

  • aadfasdsd

    all punk pretty much sounds the same. it gets boring fast. it’s only fun if you get into the lifestyle rather than just the music. to be part of the lifestyle is to accept that you are part of societal mediocrity because you are doing what you enjoy at the cost of a minimum wage job that allows you to explore your pursuits of punk music, hanging out with friends on the street, and being a general bum with money.