Andrea Hsu

Rock Star Cui Jian Performs in Chengdu

Li Dong

hide captionGuards occasionally told people to take their seats, but otherwise seemed to be enjoying the concert.

photos by Andrea Hsu, NPR

Cui Jian, often referred to as the father of Chinese rock, gave an incredible concert at the provincial sports arena in Chengdu last night. For two and a half hours, he and his band played to an adoring and grateful crowd, who at times, sang along with his every word. Some of the concertgoers told me it's been 18 years since Cui Jian's last major solo appearance in Chengdu; others seemed to think it was within the last decade.

Whatever the case, it was a much different scene from the last time I saw Cui Jian perform, in a small club in Beijing in 1999. Back then, Cui Jian had essentially been barred from performing large venues, and news of his shows spread by word of mouth. The unofficial ban, at least in Beijing, had come into place after a rousing concert he gave in Tiananmen Square in 1989. You can find on iTunes and elsewhere a clip of his song "Nothing to my Name," which became an anthem of sorts for the pro-democracy movement.

"Old Cui," as he's known, is 46 now, and something of a national hero. His songs are played on the radio sometimes, and last night's concert was a pretty big deal. There was a multi-tiered stage, an impressive lights display, large video screens, and a well-choreographed stage show, featuring drummers from the Beijing-based group SambAsia and a team of dancers.

A SPECIAL GUEST

Li Dong

hide captionCui Jian's concert featured a special guest, Chinese gymnast Li Donghua, who won a gold medal in the Atlanta Olympics.

Andrea Hsu, NPR

The concert also featured an improbable special guest: the Chinese gymnast Li Donghua, who won a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Cui Jian spoke about Li as a friend and a native of Chengdu, while footage of Li's gold medal performance in Atlanta rolled on a huge screen behind him. Then, the gymnast himself appeared on stage with a pommel horse and wowed the crowd with a short routine, while Cui Jian sang — a thrilling, if slightly odd duet. Cui Jian concluded the special appearance with some chatter about his hope for Chinese rock music — that it will one day, like Li Donghua, be able to win gold. The crowd went wild.

MULTI-GENERATIONAL AUDIENCE

Rock concert Chengdu

hide captionCui Jian and his band played three encores, the last one after the house lights were already on and the credits had rolled twice.

Andrea Hsu, NPR

At one point, Cui Jian called out to fans born in each of the decades (50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s), asking each group to shout out in return. Those born in the 80s were definitely the loudest, but the 60s and 70s seemed well represented too. He said he hoped those born in the 90s could still understand what he was singing about. I actually spotted a few children in the crowd, perched on their fathers' shoulders.

After one encore, credits rolled on the big screens — yes, credits, naming the band members, the dance troupe, the drummers, the lighting director, etc., but the crowd cheered until Cui Jian and his band came back and played a couple of songs. Then the credits rolled again, and the house lights were turned on. And still, about half the crowd stayed and cheered and starting singing one of his songs, and then cheered some more. And then, to my surprise, the band took the stage one last time and played one more song with the house lights on. Finally, everyone left, exhilarated.

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Talking about pop culture in today's China,
you just can't afford not to mention two of today's biggest pop sensations :Li Yuchun (Chris Li) and Zhang Liangying (Jane Zhang).

They happen to be both Chengdu natives and made their fame from Chinese version of "American Idol". Search them on YouTube to get a sense of who they are.

Chengdu is well-known as China's "star-search heaven." The city has taken almost all such shows by storm in China. Over half of those in the finals were from Chengdu.

Can you imagine 3 or 4 of the finalists of every "American Idol" show coming from the same city in the US?

That's Chengdu's star-power!

Jane is a great example of youth culture in today's China. She used to be a residential singer at a music bar in Chengdu while working at her degree in English literature at Sichuan University. She speaks excellent English and is scheduled to sing together with Andrea Bocelli at the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony. Hershows that anyone with a dream who works will make it.

It may be difficult to get either of the two to find time to appear on your show, but tell them it's for their hometown on the most respected American news program, I'm sure they'll give up anything for the opportunity.

Sent by Dan | 4:50 PM | 4-27-2008

Chengdu is also well-known for its dynamic nightlife.

The city has all kinds of bars and restaurants, catering all kinds of tastes through the day and night. I suggest "The Mix" and "TNT" for the rock-oriented, to give your American listeners "shock and awe".

My personal favorite is those so called "water-bars," known among locals. They serve no alcohol, only coffee and herbal tea. Some have small piano and guitar bands; others specialize in rare books and antiques. They offer a great place for friends to hang out.

In Chengdu there???s also a strong outdoors and environmental protection movement. I think it???s due to the city???s proximity to some of the world's most magnificent mountains. When you are here, seek out some of the people in outdoors clubs. These are folks who are into environmental protection, Greenpeace-type of non-governmental movements. I remember an REI-type of store near Qingtai Road that might help connect you these people in Chengdu. I know that the first volunteer who died for the protection of the Tibetan mountain goat in the Kekexili region was from Chengdu.

Sent by Dan | 6:26 PM | 4-27-2008

I remember quite clearly: it was rainy for a while the night of the concert. The rain washed away the dust of the city. People were rushing to see "Lao Cui" (Old Cui).

Sent by Song Qiuying | 6:34 AM | 4-28-2008

My wife was there 18 years ago when Lao Cui performed in Chengdu, but I missed it. Fortunately, we were lucky to go to his New York concert at the Bowery Ballroom in 1999 and that was one of the best concerts I have ever been to.

Sent by SaZiMa | 8:34 PM | 5-6-2008

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