Me and the dragon: a lyrical engagement with the politics of Chineseness
Yiu Fai CHOW
Abstract Nationalistic songs are not rare in the pop music tradition of Hong Kong: from the anthemic, heroic-sounding songs as well as sentimental, folkish ballads, generally known as ' minzu gequ', in the 1970s and 1980s, to what I would call the neo-minzu gequ reinvented in trendier R&B or rap numbers during the turn of the century. For me, a cultural studies student and a cultural producer (lyric writer), the power of minzu gequ lies precisely in its tendency to privilege a particular performance of Chineseness by the tactic of excluding the marginal, be they foreign (mostly imperialistic) enemies or domestic dissidents, as well as the possibility of cultural resistance it offers. In 1980 I sang one; in 2005 I penned one. This essay is an inquiry of how 'I' have been dealing with issues of Chineseness through the pop lyrics I have created during the 're-nationalization' process of Hong Kong. Employing the tactics of writing against the grain and writing with a twist, I try to trouble dominant narratives on Chineseness. A central theme of this essay is to resist simplicity, to resist certain political or ideological attempts to simplify and nullify complexity into certain dominant narratives - by mobilizing the autobiographical 'I', in this case, embodied in the duality of cultural studies student-cum-producer. An autobiographical approach is adopted as a response to two major issues of cultural studies: the danger of theoreticism and the question 'What do cultural studies do'. This essay is a chronicle of how I, a lyrical writer, try to write what I have read from cultural studies into a cultural product. It is also an occasion to interpellate me, a cultural studies student, to read the product back into cultural studies.
Keywords: nationalistic songs; Chineseness; Cantopop; autobiographical approach; resistance
Yiu Fai Chow released his first Cantopop lyrics in 1989. Since then, he has been collaborating with a variety of pop artists in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. Next to his lyrical career, Chow is a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research, University of Amsterdam. His project concerns young Chinese living in the Netherlands and their use of popular culture, in particular martial arts films, beauty pageants and pop music.