Rock attitude

So Rock #78 (August, 2008)

The Shijiazhuang-based music magazine So Rock! (我爱摇滚乐) can usually be counted on to deliver an eye-catching cover every month (this issue, from 2005, is a little more shocking than the one shown here).

The print quality and layout of the magazine have risen substantially over the past few years, so it doesn't resemble a zine as much anymore. It's still outside of the official periodical system, though: So Rock is a free supplement that comes with the purchase of an 18-yuan mix CD from So Rock! Records, and lacks a periodical license number of its own.

This month's issue features an interview with Paul Draper of Mansun done jointly with the web-based Mansun fanzine "Greyzine." With the assistance of fans in China, Draper keeps a Baidu blog where he posted his lengthy answer about why he wore a PLA insignia (that interview question doesn't show up in So Rock).

The magazine also talked to Liu Kun of Low Wormwood (低苦艾) and experimental saxophonist Li Tieqiao (李铁桥).

The first two-thirds of the magazine is music-related. The remainder is a mixture of jokes and funny photos from the Internet, quirky news, odd opinion pieces, snarky political analysis, and film and book reviews.

This issue reviews three books. Patrick Modiano's Rue des boutiques obscures (暗店街, translated into English as "Missing Person") is known to Chinese readers from a reference in one of Wang Xiaobo's stories as well as its influence on Wang Shuo's Playing for Thrills. There's also a review of Demented Art: Report on Chinese Mental Patients' Art by Guo Haiping, a contemporary artist who worked with eleven patients over the course of three months at a Nanjing mental hospital.

The magazine also takes a look at one of the hottest unpublished books of the summer: China: Twilight of the Miracle (中国:奇迹的黄昏), by Yuan Jian. The book was completed around 2005 but failed to find a publisher, so Yuan, former executive editor of Directors and Boards magazine, posted it to his blog earlier this year.

Twilight paints a pretty bleak picture of China's future after three decades of economic reforms. An entrenched bureaucracy propelled by self-interest has driven itself into an impasse, leaving continued economic progress perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. In the preface, Yuan writes that the book is based on a previous work, Shifting China, which he wrote in 1995 but was unable to publish.

What makes Twilight so sensitive, besides the indictment of the country's "bureaucratic interest groups," is Yuan's insistence on incorporating the economic, political, and social fallout from the Cultural Revolution and the Tian'anmen Movement (his term) into his discussion of the country's changing circumstances and the uneasy relationship among urban intellectuals, rural residents, and the government bureaucracy. Online reactions suggest that his descriptions of factions scheming for control resonates with the same reading public that made Currency Wars into a best-seller earlier this year.

The So Rock critic writes:

When my mother calls me now, she tends to say, "Your generation has it worse than we did..." My parents worked their whole lives at a company that lived off the state, they were fortunate enough to catch the last of the subsidized housing, and their retirement is basically enough to support them, but they'd hardly caught a breath when I had to have a big house and fancy car to attract a pretty, intelligent, obedient, filial wife, and then they discovered what a wonderful world it is now. Housing is unaffordable - even if they spit out everything they consumed their whole lives, they won't have enough money to buy a house. Going to college isn't worth any money, and it's harder to get into the system for that iron rice bowl than it used to be to get work in a factory. For health care and retirement you have to look to yourself; scraping together pile of money isn't even enough for two months at the hospital...

How did this change happen? Yuan Jian's Twilight of the Miracle, this summer's new book that never had a chance of being published, presents a detailed exploration of my question in a professional yet readable way. At last I understood that I'd been set up....

How the "reform and opening up," that transformation that we've all been set up in, took place, developed, and changed, how it left its original intent and diverged ever further down a dark path, how some people got fat and rich, reaping the fruits of victory, while others stayed poor, starving, and homeless: this book provides clear answers to those questions. The eyes of the people are most certainly not bright; they can't pierce the mysteries of those tycoons who got rich overnight, they can't see how ridiculously easy it is for corrupt officials to fleece the public, they can't see what advantages economic development has brought them, and they don't understand why Network News and People's Daily are so bizarre and SF-like. The people have been hoodwinked, cheated, controlled, banished. Under the banner of economic development, decades of reform have successfully architected everything we see today. You and I have been set up as members of a harmonious society who make use of compulsory paid education, self-paid health care, and high-priced real estate. We sit along the roadside watching government buildings go up where homes have been torn down and fields have been destroyed, developers roar past in their BMWs, and that small group of people rejoice at their early arrival into communism....

With the whole country avoiding the Olympics, I strongly recommend this excellent, extremely chilling book. It'll put you into a cold sweat even as you are unable to put it down.

Yuan previous book A Critique of China's Securities Markets (中国证券市场批判), dealt with similar themes but was more focused on the financial system rather than society in general.

Twilight has been scrubbed from many of the blogs and forums it was posted to, but it's available for the time being on

Links and Sources
There are currently 4 Comments for Rock attitude.

Comments on Rock attitude

Hey Joel,

nice piece. I can't seem to find 奇迹的黄昏 online. Any links?


Thanks, Iacob. The link's right at the end of the post.

But the links don't open

Odd. No problem over here. Xici has a post with an archive of .doc files; an HTML version is here; this blog serialized all but the final chapter (which has lots of the sensitive stuff).

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