The Transition in National Identity and Popular Music in Taiwan: Chou-style in Mandopop

CCTP-725 Cultural Hybridity (2011 Fall)
Yu-wei Wang
December, 13, 2011

1. Introduction

In spite of the growing influences of global contexts, the idea of national identity continues to be important in musical discourses and practice. Music can be involved in the construction or reconstruction of national identities in both material and symbolic ways. The dynamic interaction of local and global, and its interventions into the production, dissemination and reception of popular music culture in Greater Chinese area (大中華地區), including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, has developed its own kind of popular music genre-- Mandopop. Mandopop (華語流行音樂), a colloquial abbreviation for “Mandarin popular music,” features songs performed mainly in Mandarin Chinese, and its music genres before 2000 year are often carry heritages from either Western popular music style, such as Rock, Blue, R&B or popular music style from Japan, such as Enka. Taiwan is usually seen as the central hub of Mandopop, while consumers are mainly Mandarin speakers from Greater Chinese area (Moskowitz, 2010). In 2000, a young musician, Jay Chou (Chou Chieh-lun, 周杰倫), who developed a new music genre under the category of Mandopop, “Zhongguo feng” (中國風), which literally means “Chinese Style Music”, and is known as Chou-style.

The visual image of "Zhongguo Feng"

Chou-style refers to a hybrid music genres of contemporary R&B, Rock, Blue and ancient Chinese musical elements. This new hybrid music genre became an instant hit in its first debut within Greater Chinese music markets. After the success of Chou-style, many Mandopop composers and singers adapt the style into their albums, incorporating their own interpretation toward the genre which made Chou-style as a continuing evolving music genre. Musicians like David Tao(陶喆) and Leehom Wang(王力宏) are two of the successful and famous musicians in Chou-style. National identity continues to have significance in both the production and consumption of music. As Chou and his Chou-style gain a great success in the Mandopop market, the reason for the accomplishment of Chou-style arouses my research question. My argument for this consequence is that despite of the enchanting melody of Chou-style music, the representation of the exploration of either National or Cultural identity of young-adult generation in Greater Chinese Area should be the crucial point in that Chou-style music embodies the historical influences along with the heritage of this area which represent the social reality of betwixt and ambivalent of National and Cultural identity of our generation.

2. From Global to Local: Mandopop

2.1 The development of Mandopop

Mandopop, literally refers to the kind of popular music performed in Mandarin. It is categorized as a subgenre of commercial Chinese-language music within Chinese popular music (C-pop).

Chinese pop music has gone through several important stages of development. Began from 1920s, Shanghai served as the center of Mandopop industry, with the parallel to Taipei where were the hub of Taiwanese pop music. Taipei and Shanghai became two important places for the development of Chinese pop music industries. However, the center position of Shanghai ended in late 1940, due to the Civil War in China which lead to the cease of the Mandopop development in Shanghai. After Civil War, Communism Party has controlled the Mainland China, while Chinese Nationalist Party retreated to Taiwan. The changes of the political environment lead to the diversion of the development of Mandopop in the two places. Moreover, the leading places of Mandopop turned into Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Hong Kong, the popularity of Mandopop were not gradually surpassed by Cantonese pop music until the late 1970s, whereas, Mandopop still holds its dominant position in Taiwan’s pop music market. In Mainland China, not until the late 1970s, because of the Chinese Economic Reform policy which allow the import of Mandopop music, did the Mandopop form Taiwan or Hong Kong took place of the mainstream Chinese Revolution music at that time. In 1990s, musicians from either Taiwan or Hong Kong started go into the music industry in Mainland China, and assist the development of the industry. Nowadays, Beijing has gradually become an important place of the development of Mandopop, and Mandopop has become the dominant music genre in Mainland China.

The popularity of Mandopop in Greater China area and overseas Chinese communities around the world, as well as other Asian countries, fosters many internationally influential Mandopop superstars. Teresa Teng (鄧麗君), for example, is one of the most outstanding artists, she not only is a superstar in Mandopop, but has a crucial position in the popular history of Japanese pop music, Cantonese pop music, and Taiwanese pop music. It is because of her success that made Taipei gain the dominant position of Mandopop music industry. With the mature and refined chains of Mandopop music industry as well as the environment offering to cultivate new composers and singers, Taiwan still plays a crucial role, leading the development of Mandopop. Hence, Taiwan has been credited as “the cradle of Mandopop.”(江紹倫, 2011)

Teresa Teng (鄧麗君)

2.2 History and Cultural Influences of Mandopop

1920s: Birth of Shidaiqu(時代曲, literally means music of the time)

Mandarin pop songs in the 1920s were called Shidaiqu (時代曲, literally refers to music of the time, thus popular music). They are considered the prototype of any Chinese pop song (Shoesmith & Rossiter, 2004). Shanghai was the center and quintessential hub for Mandopop in 1920s. Li Jinhui is generally regarded as the “Father of Chinese Popular Music”, having established the genre in the 1920s. However, the music style of Shidaiqu still shows great influence from American Jazz.

"夜上海" (The Night of Shanghai), is a song wrote in 1930s.

1930s–1940s: The Seven Great Singing Stars era

The “Seven Great Singing Stars” in the Republic of China period secured the place of the genre in Asian society. The singers’ style was unlike any Chinese-language music that had come before it. The film industry took advantage and engaged singers for acting and soundtrack roles. Zhou Xuan (周璇)is generally considered the most remarkable Chinese pop star of the era due to her successful singing and film career. The era came to an abrupt end when Japanese armies occupied Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.


周璇(Zhou Xuan)
天涯歌女 (The Wandering ), is one of the popular songs in 1940s.

1950s: The split

In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established by the Communist party leaded by Mao. One of the first actions taken by the government was to denounce popular music as pornography (Broughton, Ellingham, Trillo, 2000). In Mainland China, the communist regime would begin suppressing pop music in order to promote revolutionary music.

The Chinese Nationalist Party, as known as KMT, retreated to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War had established the Republic of China in Taiwan with its capital city Taipei as the new center of Mandopop. Taiwanese youth were drawn to popular music styles, especially Enka from Japan, who had colonized Taiwan since the end of the nineteenth century through World War II. Yet, after under the rule of KMT government, popular songs necessarily employed Mandarin after the war, because the authority mandated its use, forbidding Japanese and restricting the use of Taiwanese, the actual mother tongue of most of the island's residents. Hence, during the time, Taiwanese pop music were suppressed its prosperity by the government.

One of the Taiwanese Pop song, the style of music is deeply influenced by Japanese enka

1970s–1980s: Rise of the industry

Mandopop became more popular within mainland China after Deng Xiaoping opened China's doors to the world. As a result, more young people in China started to enjoy pop music. In addition, In 1979, Singapore launched the Speak Mandarin Campaign to promote the use of Mandarin over the range of Chinese dialects spoken by various segments of the ethnic-Chinese population. Mandarin songs therefore began to replace Hokkien and Cantonese songs on the radio stations and on television.

Teresa Teng made Mandopop a true mainstay by crossing over to Mainland China. Even in the height of censorship, the mainland lifted the ban on Teng in 1986 and proclaimed that “By day, Deng Xiaoping rules China. But by night, Deng Lijun (Teresa Teng) rules (Reed, Davison, 1998).” Her songs were considered “Bourgeois Music” by Mainland officials (Reed, Davison, 1998).

1990s: The Prosperity of Mandopop

During the period, the dominant position of Mandopop has been surpassed by Cantonpop in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, Hong Kong still plays an important role in the realm of Mandopop for its well-developed music industry.

In this era, there are plural music styles of Mandopop. These styles are mainly introduced from Western world of music, including Blue, R&B, Country songs, Jazz, and Rock.

2000s: Prosper and Transform of Mandopop

The 2000s began with an explosion of pop idols, mainly from Taiwan. Mainland China has rapidly increased a large number of Mandopop singers, bands, and idol groups as pop music becomes increasingly mainstream by mid-2000s. The growing Mainland film industry and Chinese television drama also increased demand for Mandopop. Jay Chou led the popularity of his Chou-style that the rhythm incorporated Blues, Rap, R&B and Chinese music elements, Pentatonic scale for example. Other successful singers include Stefanie Sun, David Tao, Jolin Tsai and Leehom Wang. While many Cantopop singers also turning towards Mandopop industry due to disputes among entertainment and record companies in Hong Kong and also to increase their fan base from Mainland China.

3. The Hit of a Hybrid music genre: Chou-style

3.1 Overview

In 1980s, contemporary Mandopop evolved out of Taiwan’s 1970s Campus Songs Folk movement, drawing on several previous or coexisting musical trandition in East Asia, including Shanghai’s 1930s jazz epoch, Japanese enka, and Hong Kong’s Cantonpop. In 2000s, a Times Asia article covering Jay Chou, the undisputed king of Mandopop from 2000-2007, gained great success with his specific music style-- Chou-style (周式風格).

Jay Chou (周杰倫)

What is Chou-style?

Although Chou’s compositions are loosely categorized as pop music, many of his works fall into a hybrid music genres of contemporary R&B, Rock, Blue and ancient Chinese-style. His Chou style has been popularized to describe as his mark of cross-cultural music and his insistence on singing with slurred enunciation. Taipei Times, a popular English newspaper in Taiwan, once described the meaning of “Chou Style": "In what has become the archetypal Chou style, Taiwan's favorite son blends pop, rap, blues and a smorgasbord of esthetic elements of world music to create his dream-like never-never land ...”.

In many of Chou’s works, he fuses traditional Chinese instruments and styles with R&B or rock to form a new genre of Chinese pop music, called Zhongguo Feng (中國風, which literally means “Ancient Chinese Style Music”), some of which are written in the Pentatonic Scale as opposed to the more common seven-note scale (Diatonic Scale) to accentuate an oriental style. The remix of Western and Oriental music elements is the trademark of Jay Chou, and this can be seen in many of his works, such as “東風破” (Eastern Wind Breaks), “髮如雪” (Hair Like Snow), and “青花瓷” (Blue And White Porcelain). More than the above-mentioned genres, Chou also tried to adopt other exotic music elements in his works. For example, “紅模仿”(Red Imitation) is a song that incorporated Spanish guitar, and “本草綱目” (Herbalist's Manual) is a song that incorporate American electronic. Moreover, his formal musical training is evident by the use of classical textures in many of his compositions.

Chou is more often a singer-composer than a lyricist. However, the contents and style of the lyrics for most of his music are unified with his own personality and image, covering a diverse range of topics and ideas. Vincent Fang accounts for more than half of the lyrics in his albums, helping to establish an important element in Chou's music: the use of meaningful, imagery- and emotionally rich lyrics, sometimes written in the form of ancient Chinese poetry with reference to Chinese history or folklore.

3.2 The Plural Evolvement of Zhongguo Feng Mandopop

Zhongguo Feng, also known as Chou-style, initially formed by Jay Chou, has widely adopted by many composers and singers after its instant hit in the market. Hence, interpreting by various musicians, the type of genre has evolved in different ways. In current Mandopop market, despite of Jay Chou whose music works are primarily using the type of genre, many American Born Chinese (ABC) pop music musicians are adopting the type of genre in many of their works, David Tao and Leehom Wang are two of the most successful musicians among ABC Mandopop singers, and their works displays different outlooks of Chou-style music genre.

Jay Chou’s Chou-style music:

Jay Chou, a Taiwanese pop song singer and composer, is the name of the musician that pops up in my mind when thinking of music hybridization. Jay Chou was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, and he began playing the piano and cello at an early age. He also studied piano with a minor in cello at Dan Jiang Senior High School. This accounts for his solid background in classical music. Chou has his own album debut “Jay” in 2000, which became an instant hit. It gained great attention in Taiwan as well as in the international Chinese community, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Unlike usual pop song singers, whose instant hit are based on their voices, dances or appearances, Chou’s popularity is mostly credited with his own genre of music— Chou-style.

東風破 (Eastern Wind Breaks) sung and composed by Jay Chou. The whole body of the melody is in a ancient Chinese style remix with the Western R&B elements, and the classical rhythm of pianos incorporated in.
青花瓷 (Quin Hua Thzi, litterally means Blue And White Porcelain) sung by Jay Chou.

In Jay’s Chou-style music, Jay makes a great fairly fusion of Western pop music elements and Ancient Chinese music elements. In other words, in his work, none of the single fused elements will put emphasis on or overshadow others. Although audience can still perceive the elements from the music, these fused elements turns into a new type of hybrid genre. In addition, since Jay Chou has a solid Classical music background, audience can usually find Classical music layers in many of his works. Moreover, the background of growing up in Taiwan, Jay will incorporate the local culture or current issues relating to Taiwan, “稻香” (Rice Fragrance) and “外婆” (Maternal grandmother) for example.

David Tao and Leehom Wang’s Chou-style:

David Tao (陶喆), was born in Hong Kong while raised in USA. His parents are both famous entertainers in Taiwan that his father is a composer, while his mother is a Chinese Opera singer. He is well-known for creating a crossover genre of R&B and hard rock tunes which has now become his signature style and for having popularized R&B in the Mandopop industry. In his fourth album “The Great Leap” (太平盛世), which released in 2005, he incorporate Chou-style into his music works, and gained a great success. Influenced by his mother, he incorporates the elements of Chinese Opera in his Chou-style works, such as plots and part of the music genre. For example, 蘇珊說 (Susan Said) is a track which combines Beijing Opera’s unique singing accent and instrumental arrangement with R&B style, and the lyrics is adapted from the Chinese Opera plot “蘇三起解”(San-Sue conveying...).


David Tao (陶喆), The Album cover of The Great Leap
Susan said..(蘇三說) sung by David Tao

Leehom Wang is an American-born singer-songwriter, record producer, actor and film director of Chinese descent based in Taiwan. He is formally trained at the Eastman School of Music, Williams College and Berklee College of Music. Although similar to Chou’s style of remixing Chinese elements with R&B and other Western music genres, Wang’s musical style is more accentuating to hip-hop and R&B, while fusing heavy Chinese elements, such as Beijing opera, traditional styles of ethnic minorities, Chinese classical orchestra. In 2004, he traveled to remote villages in China, collecting often unheard tribal sounds of aboriginal Chinese music, Tibetan music, and Mongolian music, and he incorporated these sounds into R&B and hip hop music, coining the style—Chincked-out. Two songs are the classic example of Chincked-out: “竹林深處”(Deep Within the Bamboo Grove) and “在梅邊”(Beside the Plum Blossoms) in his album 蓋世英雄 (Heroes of the Earth). “竹林深處” emphasized samples of Tibetan Opera, and different minority tribes in Yunnan and other remote areas of China. “在梅邊” features with fast kunqu melodies. In the last 50 seconds of the song, Wang rapped over 250 words, increasing in speed towards the middle and then slowed down. This was to emphasize the accelerating and descending beats of traditional Chinese opera.


Leehom Wang (王力宏)
在梅邊”(Beside the Plum Blossoms), sung by Leehom Wang

4. Zhongguo Feng Mandopop and National Identity

4.1 Postcolonialism

Postcolonialism is a postmodern intellectual discourse which consists of reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism. Fischer defines Postcolonialism as the relations between European nations and areas they colonized and once ruled. Ambivalence and Hybridity are two centre concepts in Bhabha’s (1994) view of postcolonialism. He use these two concepts to explain the colonial relation between colonist and native is fragile, in that the relation is consisted by plural incompatible feelings, and the power of colonists is not as great as exterior.

Bhabha uses Post-structuralism aspect to examine this unstable colonial relation, and he finds out that colonist’s self-identity is on the basis of the comparison with native people, since the differences will split positions of colonist and native. He also points out that the very place of identification, caught in the tension of demand and desire, is a space of splitting. He claims that in colonial world, the culture is in a hybrid situation that fuses various cultures.

As Bhabha argues, that the colonial relation itself is a split representation stage, and the question of identification is always the production of an image of identity and the transformation of the subject in assuming the image. Taiwan was colonized by Japan in half of the past century, and was ruled by KMT after 1940s, while now live under the force threat from Mainland China. Popular music usually serves as the representation of the social reality of the society. It is interesting that the emergence of Zhongguo Feng music genre is in 2000, while it is the time that Taiwan experienced its first Party alteration that Democratic Progress Party(DPP), acquired the position of authority, and it is the time that Mainland China authority kept broadcast its anger toward the election result, since DPP is often considered bear hostile to Mainland. However, the Zhongguo Feng music emerged in Taiwan while get great success in Mainland’s pop music market. Zhongguo Feng itself becomes the represented image of national identification of Taiwanese people, who is now experiencing the post-post-colonial era that is the influences of Western ideology, such as freedom and capitalism, and the contradictable emotions toward Mainland.

4.2 Dialogism & Intertextuality & Intermediality

Bakhtin introduces the concept of dialogism by explaining the the generation of meaning through the relation between utterance, the context of discourses, and the hybrid nature of language (Bakhtin, 1986). In Bakhtin’s perspective, dialogic expression is always an incomplete ongoing chain, and the meaning is that never closed.

Julia Kristeva then brought up the notion of Intertextuality by expanding Bakhtin’s idea of dialogism about the network of discourse. Intertextuality proposes that every text is formed as a mosaic of quotations, as it assimilates and transforms prior texts that provide the context of possible meanings. Hence, the meaning generation process of any single text requires the understanding of former or related texts as precondition. Intertextuality can interpret the meaning behind cultural objects, such as a book, a TV show, or a Web genre. In today’s cross-media discourses, Intertextuality can be further explained into Intermediality that refers to the a minimal unit of meaning that can be packed together in worlds or images or any medium which carry cultural meanings.

In today’s Mandopop music realms, the dialogue between audience and Zhongguo Feng Mandopop will never go to its end. Since many of the Zhongguo Feng Mandopop songs are carried the historical heritages from the fifty hundred years of Chinese history, which inevitably forces listeners in the community to think about their National Identity. Audience who come from various regions of the Great Chinese area has his own dialogue with the music. Although some parts of the dialogue are commonly shared by the common memories of the people, some are interpreted by the experiences of the audience. Therefore, Zhongguo Feng Mandopop plays as a context or texts for Taiwanese people to explore their own National Identity.

5. Conclusion:

In conclusion, as Pieterse puts nation remains a crucial but ambivalent category for understanding how cultural texts and practices function in the construction of personal and collective identities (Nederveen Pieterse, 1995). Popular culture often will be seen as the reflection of social reality of the epoch, and the representation is mainly shows in art works. Popular music is one of the art genres that sensitively reflect the ideology or social atmosphere of the society. Mandopop initially emerged from 1930s and now becomes the dominant pop music genre within Greater Chinese area, without the restriction of geographical spaces or political systems. Despite of the historical factors and current social reality, Chinese community, with no doubt, shares many common contexts from the historical experiences to the modern popular culture. Zhongguo feng music genre acquires the instant hit after its debut. This phenomenon in some degree reflects the cultural or national identity of individuals who are part of the Greater Chinese community, since in the face of a brutalizing of culture, the nostalgia of emotion will appear (Nederveen Pieterse, 1995). This situation makes individuals to reconsider their own identification.

6. References:

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