People attend a performance in Fuzhou, China dedicated to the Communist Party's 100th birthday. Photo: Lyu Ming / China News Service via Getty Images
A group of 100 Chinese rappers have contributed to a lengthy track dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party, showing the extent to which the country’s success has remade a rebellious genre to serve the establishment.The 15-and-a-half-minute cypher, which was recorded in parts given the number of artists, is titled 100%. It uses rap to extoll the rise of China and the achievements of the ruling party in every aspect of life, from the military to internet technology to sports and education.
The participants include popular hip-hop artists like Jiang Yunfei and Trouble.Z, as well as lesser-known names such as Lil Duck, Octopus, and Break D. Some of the lyrics are an awkward combination of slang and Chinese propaganda buzzwords:“Our spaceships are flying in the sky, the new China must get lit.”“No matter if it’s Hong Kong or Taiwan, we are all descendants of the dragon.” “Alibaba and Tencent, they are all excellent, progressing through real strength and never once thinking about cutting into the line.” ComeLee, founder of HipHop Fusion, a Shenzhen-based hip-hop culture platform that produced the song, told VICE World News that the company had invited the rappers to each write and record a few lines about China’s rise to match a beat. The call was met with enthusiasm, even though the work was unpaid, he said, adding that a song with 100 artists on it could be “a pioneering work in the global music history.”Once censored in China, hip-hop music has in recent years been brought into the mainstream by the state and entertainment businesses. But its anti-establishment streak has been replaced with an uplifting one, and artists often work with authorities in promoting official ideology to their legions of young fans. ComeLee said the core values of hip-hop are “being real, unity and having fun.” While Western hip-hop often focuses on injustices in society, he said, Chinese rappers have used the art form to express their heartfelt appreciation of the country they live in.
“We are not experiencing these injustices in China right now,” ComeLee said. “Can’t we just express our most genuine happiness? Can’t we express our genuine patriotism? This is called ‘being real.’” Entertainment stars in China, including hip-hop artists, have in recent years played prominent roles in state propaganda. In a massive propaganda campaign launched for the 100th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party, officially set on July 1, celebrities have joined “flash mob” events singing songs that hail the party as the people’s mother, retelling the party’s revolutionary history in online videos, and playing the Communist founders, including Chairman Mao Zedong, in patriotic films. “The government and the state media are restyling propaganda in a way that really appeals to the netizens and especially the younger demographics,” Sheng Zou, a researcher on Chinese media and politics with the University of Michigan, told VICE World News. “Those pop stars actually act as intermediaries or opinion leaders to help the authorities to circulate propagandistic messages more effectively than officials.” Zou said Chinese pop stars have strong incentives to participate in patriotic or charity projects, which come with the political capital they need to advance their careers in Chinese showbiz.
At the same time, he said, the genuine sentiment expressed in their works could also reflect the rising nationalism among the younger generation, which has prompted many grassroots creations of patriotic artworks. The song, 100%, has received much praise for its patriotic theme after it was released on streaming site NetEast Cloud Music on Sunday. “Chinese hip-hop is not about guns and bullets, Chinese hip-hop is about motherland, love and peace,” said one of the top-voted comments on the platform. Some fans have criticized the work as a stunt while a few mocked the rappers for kowtowing to authorities. An internet user on microblogging site Weibo pointed out that one of the 100 rappers, HughLion, used an iPhone 11 to post the song online, despite rapping “I saved the lyrics I wrote in my Huawei.” “You liar, where is your Huawei?” the Weibo user said. Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.