China's youth has forgotten about politics, laments Cui Jian as he plays Clockenflap
Indifference to society is what distinguishes today's young generation of Chinese from his own, Cui Jian, the musician whose song Nothing To My Name became the anthem of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests, said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
"Most of the young people forget about politics," said the man often called the godfather of Chinese rock.
The 52-year-old rocker performed to an adoring crowd at the Clockenflap music festival in Hong Kong last night, after a six-year hiatus.
To many in China, Cui Jian is not only the country's biggest rock star, he is also one of the most popular critical voices in the country.
Banned from performing at large venues in the 1990s because of his veiled condemnation of the Tiananmen crackdown, he has managed to stay in the spotlight as director and musician.
"Many people used our music to represent their own political thoughts," Cui said. "That is something of great pride."
A quarter century after the bloodshed, Cui remains just as outspoken, and laments a lack of political awareness and interest among China's youth.
"It's sad [because] some things are the same; there is no change; we don't have to cheat ourselves," Cui said. "Of course, everybody is getting rich, everybody has a higher quality of life, but some things never change. The young people don't want to see it, but it's the same."
The musician, who has said he's still waiting to be shocked by the new generation of mainland musicians, said a balance of politics, economics and culture was essential for a nation's creativity to thrive.
"I recently found out there are three Chinas - one is ideology, one is the economy, one is the emotion, the culture, the history. But the problem I can see is, these three are fighting each other," Cui said. "Most of the young people, they forget about politics, just want the other two. It's not our balance; I don't want to see it."
Compared to years earlier, the censors now interfere less in music, he said, as long as you don't go too far.
"I think the government has started to change. They would say OK, just don't give me trouble, but you can do it."
Ironically, Cui was awarded "the Chinese Dream Practitioner" award last year by the Southern Weekly publishing group - a prize embracing a slogan coined by President Xi Jinping to suggest a Chinese road to happiness.
The musician said he struggled to understand what that dream really was. "Be successful? Get rich? Get an apartment? Get a car? For me, it's not a dream. I have an understanding of what people think of the American Dream, but the Chinese Dream, I don't know.
"Personally, I want to see rights, freedom of speech, but it's a boring subject, because everybody thinks it's dangerous."
Footage of China's first ever rock concert: Cui Jian on May 9th, 1986 in Beijing
For Cui, the return to stateendorsed Confucianism has also tightened the space for debate in China. "All that Confucius says is don't be selfish, don't talk about yourself, it's not beautiful, then they start to hide it in themselves," he said.
For Daisaburo Hashizume, a Japanese sociologist who followed the rock star in the 1990s, Cui's success was based on his ability to blend Chinese folk elements and Western music into a unique Chinese voice, which was adopted by those critical of the regime.
"He is the symbol of protesting spirit, of good common sense of ordinary people of China," Hashizume said. "Cui Jian is expressing that something is wrong with what is going on."
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