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China’s rap patriots

China’s rap patriots

China’s ruling party are about to celebrate their 100-year anniversary. But their new anthem isn’t quite what you’d expect…


Claudia Williams: Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, why China’s ruling party have got… cool?

***

[Clip: celebratory fireworks and singing]

That is the sound of fireworks and of some pretty intense patriotism. Across China this week, everywhere you look there will be red banners, red flags, and red balloons.  

That’s because on the 1st of July, China’s ruling party, the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, will mark their 100-year anniversary.

“On Thursday that is a big day, that is when China will mark 100 years of the Chinese Communist Party but celebrations have already begun. In fact last night a number of light shows took place in cities across China.”

CNN News

But beyond the extravagant shows, parades, and special exhibitions, the CCP have added something unusual to the celebrations

Just listen to this…

[Clip: 100% track] 

That’s a short clip from a track called “100%” It’s just over 15 minutes long, features 100 music artists, and it’s very patriotic. 

It was created by a production company who invited famous rappers to write a few lines celebrating China’s greatness. A strange mish-mash of things like overcoming famine, developing 5G technology, and sending rockets into space. 

And one artist who expresses his “loyalty to the country” in the track, is a rapper called Mercy.

“Yo waddup, it’s Mercy,”

Rapper Mercy speaking, Gully China

He’s popular in the world Chinese hip hop… and his patriotic conversion won’t go unnoticed by his millions of fans. 

Because it wasn’t always smooth sailing, both for Mercy and for Chinese hip hop. 

So why is this genre of music, once shut down and rejected by the CCP, now rapping its praise?

***

“You might have heard that hip-hop is banned in China, or that lyrics get censored, or that rappers can’t have tattoos.”

RADII China

China has a reputation for censorship. There’s no Facebook or YouTube, no Google, and even BBC News was banned from broadcasting back in February.

For a long time, rap was considered one of the things that wasn’t allowed in China. It was a small, underground scene enjoyed by a niche of fans because a lot of it was critical of social issues that didn’t get a lot of air time on state-run news channels.

And then when Xi Jinping became President of China in 2013, there was a real crackdown on the arts and dissent, even those operating underground. 

“But because of their quote “vulgar and violent” lyrics, their entire back catalogue was wiped in 2015.”

RADII China

Members of groups were detained and their songs were put on blacklists, their work was labelled as “immoral”, because it was said that it didn’t serve the country’s socialist values. And so artists like Mercy, who got caught up in the crackdown, were forced to find other careers.

Mercy went to Shanghai where he worked as a marketing assistant for a sports brand but secretly, he was still writing lyrics. 

***

Then came 2017, rap had a rebirth in China and Mercy got a second chance. 

China was undergoing a cultural renaissance as part of a wider plan to influence Chinese youth.

[Clip: The Rap of China trailer]

“The Rap of China” reality TV show was introduced. It’s a bit like the X Factor but…

“This show is called Rap of China and so we’re looking for rappers who can rap in Chinese.”

Kris Wu, Judge on Rap of China

The first show was viewed 2.5 billion times. That’s more than double the number of people who watched the last World Cup final.  

Hip hop had officially become mainstream in China, embraced as a tool of political influence. The only caveat? And, it’s a big one, the music had to be in line with the CCP’s values. 

“First they ban it, then they bring it back, and now they’re using it to their advantage.”

Matthew Tye, YouTuber

***

The CCP had spotted an opportunity. 

If they want to survive another 100 years, they need to appeal to the younger generation, and find a way to promote the Party’s values.

“How do you prove that you are the legitimate government of China? You do so by putting on an enormous show to remind people of what you’ve given them.”

Graeme Smith, Fellow, Department of Pacific Affairs, Australian National University, speaking on CNN News

And so embracing rap was a win-win. They could grab the attention of millions of Chinese youth while insisting that artists pay lip service if they want a platform. 

And you could say, it’s working. 

In 2019 the Party had more than 92 million members, that’s the second largest political party in the world. And a third of their members were under 40, with students making up two per cent of their base.    

And recruiting for new members starts early in China. Nearly all children are forced to join the “Young Pioneers of China” at primary school and by secondary school, top performing students get to be part of the “Chinese Communist Youth League”.

And if you want the best jobs, CCP membership is a must. 

Mercy’s embrace of the CCP shows us that a party once founded by young people 100 years ago, still sees China’s youth as the key to its success, and to another 100 years in power.

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.

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