ROCK & ROLL & ART IN CHINA 1994 – Yuan Ming Yuan

Of course, I remember having a first row seat to watch the work of artists such as Zheng Lianjie as it was being developed there.

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Ger Mer

Each day I rode my bike past their studios, and in the evenings I would often hang out with all kinds of scruffy looking artist folk while they drank their Er Guo To and I smoked the hash I was able to buy from the Uyghurs (pronounced ‘wee-ger’).

(Looks like that is something that is now facing a crackdown, just ask Jackie Chan’s son).

credit: flickr
Er Guo To, Chinese rotgut. Credit: Flickr

They all probably still remember me since as far as I recall back then I was about the only foreigner within a kilometer most of the time other than Chris Gill and perhaps a few others at most.

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Thus I had to endure the constant curiosity of many Chinese who were eager to treat me like an exotic creature of some sort who always needed to try Bai Jiu in order to build some guanxi (trust and connections).

Once, at a party, they held out a bowl of Bai Jiu to me.  It was confusing since I did not drink out of a rice bowl (I later found it was acceptable for Chinese; now I do it too!)  Also the angle they were holding it at was odd.  Guessing at what to do, I leaned forward as if they were offering me a sip from the bowl, bending my lips into a Mick Jagger kind of duckface to slurp it up.  They all doubled over.  It turns out they just wanted to “cheers” with me by clinking my beer glass on their rice bowl before drinking.  “You are a real Yankee after all,” they laughed.   And that’s how friends are made in China… once you get drunk with them you have a little trust and guanxi, or “relationship.”

China is “clan” or family-based in terms of a lot of social interactions. “Little sister”, “older sister”, “uncle”, “auntie”, these are the pronouns Chinese people commonly use for each other. Every class has a name that is family-oriented in nature and denotes your social standing to a great degree.

Doing business in China in the 1990s (and perhaps even if you were doing business there just yesterday), you typically will wind up at some point overcoming the frosty introduction period over liquor and a banquet of lavish food at a seafood restaurant with too many mirrors.  This is often because a Communist party friend of theirs is having it all put on the expense account (which is the way they suck some graft out of their system when their regular wage is too low).   Smoking indoors is still allowed.  Suddenly, the interactions become warm and the food is fantastic and weird and the Bai Jiu starts to come out of fancy auspicious packaging.

Bai (White) Jiu (Liquor) Photo: Munkeyspasm on Flickr

Of course, it was only two years after I arrived in 1994 to a veritable desert of food choices that  I saw the first micro-brewery in Hai Dian open up!  Before that there was only a Pizza Hut and one KFC in Haidian, and Mexican and Thai places near Wang Fu Jing).  Yes, once they took off, things moved so fast it made your head spin.

Nonetheless, after YuanMingYuan was shut down the musicians also took to the hills.  Like early warehouse rave culture, they gathered wherever they could have amplified music and not be hassled by authorities.  The bridge photo above, for example,  was taken as we were camping in the hills and jamming at night around bonfires, etc.

Below is the song “Yuan Ming Yuan” by Fa zi.  It has a verse of “Dong Fang Hong” (The East is Red)” in there.  万园之园 – 东方红

This was recorded on a hand-held tape recorder in 1994 in Beijing, China so please excuse the poor quality. It is more for historical document purposes.

Fa Zi and the band are really rocking out on this one, and his voice is powerful enough to rise over the guitars squall.

In there is also the traditional Chinese instrument the Suona, which is awesome.

The East is Red is basically the Communist Party Anthem, so obviously Fa Zi is making a bit of historical commentary on this track.  While he was mostly not interested in confrontation, he was well aware (as you can tell by this song) that he was bridging the old and the new, the east and the west.

Next Unavailable Post: Yuan Ming Yuan : Garden of Perfect Brightness >>>

(NOTE: this chapter  –part of the soon to be published non-fiction book by Kevin J. Salveson–  is unavailable on the web except by password.  The printed first edition (Extab Media 2015)  features chapters and photos un-available on any digital platform.  Check the Extablisment website and store: www.extablisment.com  as well as other fine book retailers such as Amazon.com for a release date.

Also, look for the Fa Zi story / Rock and Roll in China Film Script called Bend Your Ear in development right now.  Or, if you are a producer who has the chops,  you can purchase the  rights to co-produce on the Extab website store for a mere $10,000 (plus the terms of a negotiable contract).  Act fast, only a few in stock!)

Next Available Post:

Rock & Roll In China – On The Cusp of Going Commercial >>

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Fazi (the Chinese Fat Elvis) + Rock and Roll + 1 American Expat = entertaining music