Posted by Alice Xin Liu on Monday, May 11, 2009 at 3:20 PM
Zhang Shouwang, photographed by Esquire
Michael Pettis is finance professor at Peking University, China Financial Markets blogger, and owner of live music venue D22 in Wudaokou, Beijing.
As someone who has been watching and promoting the burgeoning live rock music scene in the capital, Pettis is in close contact with many of the performers.
Zhang Shouwang (张守望), lead singer of Beijing rock outfit Carsick Cars and experimental band White (with musician Shenggy), is possibly the most famous musician in the so-called "Beijing underground music scene", famous for supporting the U.S. band Sonic Youth and penning infamous Beijing rock tunes of recent years.
As part of the "New Youth" feature in the May issue of Esquire, Pettis asks Shouwang, whose name means “to keep watch", ten questions about composing a very famous song, rock music today compared to the '80s, traveling and "new Chinese music".
Below Danwei republishes the full English interview (in Esquire it was translated into Chinese) with Pettis and Shouwang's permission.
Michael Pettis: When did you decide to become a musician and why?
MP: I have met many young Chinese, especially artists, who say that they started listening to or making music because of you. Why have you had such an influence?
I think China is changing very quickly and many young people don’t think we fit into the culture and society of our parents. We are trying to build the China that belongs to us and that we can understand. That is why we all listen to each other and are influenced by each other.
MP: Your song Zhongnanhai has been called the “anthem” of the Beijing underground scene. Why do you think so many people love it so much?
MP: Will you make a living as a musician? How important is success to you?
MP: Is there such a thing as new Chinese music?
MP: What is the biggest difficulty for young artists and musicians in Beijing different from other world cities?
MP: Have you traveled to many places inside and outside China? What do you think about them?
MP: You are well-known for your underground rock band, Carsick Cars, and your experimental band, White, and you are known as a widely acclaimed composer for classical music ensembles. What kind of musician are you?
MP: What musicians or artists in Beijing have influenced you the most?
MP: What is your greatest dream?
MP: Can you say a few words to sum up this generation of Chinese youth?
I think many of us feel that much of what we learned in school and in the media was not really true, or perhaps didn’t really fit our lives, and so we are reading books, listening to music, and sharing ideas that are very different from what we had been given. I think very few of our generation have beliefs the way older Chinese do. We believe in real things, and we find it hard to take seriously all the big, empty ideas that we were given.
MP: What do you think about conditions in China today? Do you want change things by your action and your music?
MP: Are your lyrics important to you? How do you write the lyrics to your songs? Do you want your fans to understand your lyrics?
Once I finish the song, the lyrics don’t belong to me anymore, and people can think whatever they want. An Austrian friend told me that when he heard No Future Square he thought it was about a park in Vienna in which many young people were killed during the war, and it moved him deeply. I am happy that he felt that, because it means that the song felt true to him.
MP: You were born in 1985, when Chinese rock first started. Do you know Cui Jian’s music and have you ever gone to one of his shows and listened carefully to his music? What do you think about your generation’s musicians and about the older generation of musicians?
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