Chinese rocker censored, refuses to appear on New Year gala show

Cui Jian in 2007


JISHOU, HUNAN — China’s “godfather of rock,” Cui Jian (崔健), has refused to appear in the annual CCTV New Year Gala program, because censors told him he could not perform one of his big hits.

“Nothing to My Name” (一无所有 Yì Wú Suǒ Yǒu) was the unofficial anthem of the 1989 Tian’anmen Square student protest, which the government would rather the Chinese public not remember, or even know about.

Nearly everyone in China watches the CCTV New Year Gala, which this year will be aired Jan. 30. That’s a lot of people. Cui, 52, wanted to perform the 1986 hit, but TV censors said no go.

Rather than acquiesce to their demands, Cui canceled his appearance.

Iconic 1989 photo:
A lone student stares down a line of tanks


In spring 1989 Beijing students took to the streets, demanding greater democracy and freedom in China. A huge crowd of students occupied Tian’anmen Square for nearly seven weeks. Martial law was declared on May 20, and on June 4 and 5, the government sent in hundreds of thousands of soldiers, some in tanks and helicopters, to crush the protests. There were reportedly thousands of casualties.

Before the crackdown, Cui had given a concert to the students during their hunger strike in Tian’anmen Square. Later, he toured China, until his political statements — such as performing one song with a red blindfold on — landed him in trouble with authorities. He was refused permission to give more concerts — a ban that wasn’t lifted until 2005 — and his lyrics were censored.

Album art from 1986

Perhaps emboldened by the less restrictive attitude, Cui may have been testing Chinese authorities with his choice of song.

The Tian’anmen Square incident is one of China’s “open secrets” — something that is known by many, but never spoken about. Official histories of China say nothing about it, and web searches are blocked by Internet censors. [I just tried looking up the Wikipedia entry, by the way, unsuccessfully.] It’s likely that many young Chinese born after 1989 know nothing about the protest and the violent reprisals by the government.

Despite the official secrecy, Cui’s fans know why he refused to appear, and have given their support over China’s version of Twitter, Sina Weibo.

Here’s a YouTube video of Cui perfoming “Nothing to My Name.”

[The English lyrics are at Cui’s website.]

More details about the story are available below.

The Guardian (UK)
Wikipedia entry for Cui Jian
Cui Jian’s official website

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