Chinese Hip-Hop Thrives Despite Censorship Concerns

Chinese rapper GAI's sudden absence from a singing competition in 2018 sparked speculation about a hip-hop ban in China. Despite initial concerns, hip-hop has continued to thrive in China, with the genre experiencing explosive growth and introducing new stars.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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Chinese Hip-Hop Thrives Despite Censorship Concerns

Chinese Hip-Hop Thrives Despite Censorship Concerns

In 2018, Chinese rapper GAI's sudden absence from a popular singing competition sparked widespread speculation that the government was banning hip-hop in China. The speculation came after a directive from censors to the entertainment industry to avoid featuring artists with tattoos and those representing hip-hop or subcultures.

Why this matters: The Chinese government's attempt to censor hip-hop reflects its ongoing struggle to balance cultural expression with political control, highlighting the complexities of artistic freedom in a authoritarian regime. As China's influence in global culture continues to grow, the fate of its hip-hop scene has implications for the future of creative expression worldwide.

However, despite the initial concerns, hip-hop has continued to thrive in China, with the genre experiencing explosive growth and introducing new stars to the country's 1.4 billion people.

The city of Chengdu, in China's southwestern Sichuan region, has become a hub for Chinese hip-hop. Many of the country's biggest acts hail from the region, including Wang Yitai, Higher Brothers, and Vava. These artists have made Chinese rap mainstream, performing in a mix of Mandarin and Sichuan dialects. The Sichuan dialect, known for its soft tones and abundance of rhymes, lends itself particularly well to rap music.

Chengdu has become a welcoming city for outsiders, with its hip-hop scene centered around the collective Chengdu Rap House (CDC), founded by rapper Boss X. The city has embraced rap, with performances drawing thousands of fans and featuring a unique energy. Haysen Cheng, a 24-year-old rapper from Hong Kong who moved to Chengdu, notes, "When I came to mainland China, they showed me more love in like three or four months than I ever received in Hong Kong."

While hip-hop has gone mainstream in China, the underground scene has largely disappeared. Rap battles, once a staple of the underground scene in Chengdu, are no longer allowed because of concerns about profanity and other unacceptable content. Freestyling is also heavily restricted. Instead, aspiring rappers now upload short clips of theirmusicto Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, to get noticed.

The talent competition reality TV show "The Rap of China" has played a significant role in building China's rap industry. The first season, broadcast on the streaming platform IQiyi, drew 2.5 billion views online and introduced rap and hip-hop culture to households across the country. Nathanel Amar, a researcher of Chinese pop culture at the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China, says, "They couldn't censor the whole genre. What had looked like the end for Chinese hip hop was just the beginning."

Despite the initial concerns about censorship, Chinese hip-hop has continued to flourish by adapting to the country's cultural and political environment. By avoiding sensitive topics and staying within the government's guidelines, Chinese rappers have been able to producemusicand perform without significant restrictions. The hip-hop scene in China continues to evolve, but how the genre will overcome the challenges of censorship and mainstream acceptance while maintaining its authentic voice is uncertain. (Note: I've rewritten the text according to the instructions. Let me know if you need any further assistance!)

Key Takeaways

  • Chinese gov't attempted to censor hip-hop in 2018, sparking concerns about artistic freedom.
  • Despite initial concerns, hip-hop continues to thrive in China, with Chengdu as a hub.
  • Chinese rappers adapt to gov't guidelines, avoiding sensitive topics to produce music without restrictions.
  • The underground scene has largely disappeared, with rap battles and freestyling heavily restricted.
  • Reality TV show "The Rap of China" played a significant role in building China's rap industry.