Karaoke, Communist Style




By Kathy Chenault, Associated Press writer

Published: Thursday, Nov. 14 1991 12:00 a.m. MST

The Deseret News



A smiling young Chinese man moves his hips in abrupt, out-of-beat thrusts as he sings in accented English, “Like a virgin, oooh, touched for the very first time.”

He’s the star of the moment at one of Beijing’s more than 100 karaoke bars, where people pay to perform for other patrons alongside a music video projected on a screen.The karaoke craze, which started several years ago in Japan, has spread throughout China, from tiny barrooms in rural towns to glitzy lounges in cities.

Love songs and rock ‘n’ roll from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Western countries are the most frequent selections for the impromptu performances.

But Communist Party officials would rather they were singing songs such as “Party, My Beloved Mother,” a tune whose melody line follows the party line. Worried about the fall of communism elsewhere and Western corruption of Chinese culture, party officials are trying to use the popular pastime to reinforce Marxist-Leninist ideology.

The party’s Central Propaganda Department has compiled its own collection of songbooks, cassettes and videotapes for would-be crooners to sing at bars or even in their own homes. The 350 selections include revolutionary songs and folk ballads intended to inspire patriotic fervor.

“The songs should be healthy and progressive, and should be welcomed by the masses,” said Zhou Huilin, deputy director of the department’s publishing section.

He said officials hope the tapes, which can be bought or rented, will help “curtail the spread of unhealthy songs.”

“Healthy” lyrics include these from “Party, My Beloved Mother”:

“Oh, dear party, how lofty and great your image is. You are my dearest mother. You encouraged me to take the revolutionary career.”

China’s communists have always considered the arts a key medium for spreading propaganda.

Movies, television, plays, publishing and record and tape production all come under strict supervision of government and party offices. But karaoke performances are impromptu and individual, more difficult to control.

The party could, of course, shut down the karaoke bars, but that might alienate young people. So instead, it’s trying to encourage performers to sing the party line.

The collection was released in May at a highly publicized ceremony in the Great Hall of the People, presided over by Li Ruihuan, the party’s chief overseer of the arts.

With the new karaoke materials available, the stage is set for the star-for-a-moment performers to take microphones in hand and raise their voices in tribute to the Communist Party.

But karaoke aficionados have their own ideas.

For instance, there’s the young man who gave the spirited rendition of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin.” Even in the more tolerant West, the self-styled material girl’s songs strike many as risque.

The young man smiled when asked why he chose that song.

“It was fun,” he said. But he quickly added that he didn’t want to be identified by name.

Wouldn’t it be fun to sing “The Reddest Sun and Mao Tse-tung, The Dearest” or “Sing a Mountain Song for The Party”?

The young man scoffed.

“Nobody would like to come here to sing political songs. We’ve been singing those for years,” he said. “We want to sing popular songs, love songs – things that make us feel better.”


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