China: Country profile



Music censorship in China

In China, the censorship authorities act with the aim of protecting its citizens against “mental contamination” and its government against criticism.

China responds to globalisation at two different levels. Markets are increasingly open to those foreign products that don’t ruffle the feathers of a very conservative culture; at the same time, movies, music, books, the internet and other potential transmitters of “unhealthy ideas” are still strictly controlled, and often subject to censorship. Websites that make unhelpful mentions of the Tiananmen Square massacre, or songs that don’t toe the Beijing line on Tibet, may be blocked, blacklisted or banned.

In a global market of implied cultural signifiers, absolutely any product – even a cup of mediocre coffee – seems to have the potential to challenge socialism with Chinese characteristics. The State Department acts as censorship authorities along with the Ministry of Culture, and there are other authorities which supervise radio, tv, the internet and printed media, all with the aim of protecting its citizens against “mental contamination” – as well as to protect its government against criticism.

Censorship of music on the internet
In 2008, China’s Internet population reached 221 million users and surpassed the United States as the biggest internet nation on Earth. The figure was revealed by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information. In 2007, the China Internet Network Information Center reported that China’s most popular Internet application is online music, whish 181 million users is reported to be listening to.

But that online music does not flow freely. China’s Internet censorship is regarded by many as the most pervasive and sophisticated in the world. According to a Harvard study, at least 18,000 websites are blocked from within the country, and recently the Chinese government initiated a campaign to put a stop to “the threat to social stability” which the uncontrolled Internet access poses.

The American online newspaper eFlux Media writes that the new ”cleaning campaign” included banning all messages, whether text, audio or video, sexually suggestive, including ads, as well as sites that promote violence, religious cults or unveil national secrets.
Censored content also includes information that relates to Falun Gong, Tibetan independence, Taiwan independence, police brutality, anarchism, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, freedom of speech, democracy, and certain news sources.

eFlux Media writes:
”As of 31 January [2008], Chinese authorities limited the broadcasting of Internet videos to sites ran by the government, so as to avoid any content that could alter the minds of Internet users. In their vision, the Internet audio and video providers ”must be resolute in the service of the socialist ideal and of the people.”
While some see censorship as a necessary measure for the Chinese Internet viewers, foreign analysts consider it to restrain freedom of speech and to give a hard time to foreign companies.”

Slip holes
In the racing rate of development the People’s Republic of China must find today a way between economic social and cultural change as well as political stability. Demands for more liberty, democracy and for the adherence to the human rights stand on the side. On the other side China again and again launches campaigns against westernization and ‘mental contamination’.

As music label you and your products must be registered, so that you can sell your CDs in official shops. Punk and other underground volume have hardly chances to find a selling. They wouldn’t even think of submitting their music for registration at the authorities, but use alternative channels. “There are always slip holes,” explained musician Christiaan Virant in an interview with the magazine Norient.
“Public appearances of musicians, for example, are only sporadically controlled,” he said, adding that occasionally singers must deliver their lyrics to local authorities before their concerts. “They do this, change the lyrics on paper and then – nevertheless – sing the original version during the performance.”

Cool to be censored
To be censored has become a marketing factor or marketing stategy for the Chinese musicians, according to Christiaan Virant. The phenomena is seen even more clearly in the film industry: Chinese script writers and film producers actually hope to see their work censored because the Western film industry seems to love forbidden films from China – regardless of their actual quality. The banned film producer becomes stereotyped as a “political fighter” and if done intelligently then he or she can profit from this in the West. The very same tendency can be found in the pop music industry.

This page is continously edited as Freemuse obtains new information on the issues.

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 China: tension
 over Tibet

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eFlux Media – 24 April 2008:

‘Despite Censorship, China Surpasses U.S. In Online Population’

Norient – 5 January 2006:

‘Zensur Als Marketingstrategie’

Video interview
See a video interview with the Dutch Assistant Professor Jeroen de Kloet about the situation in 2006 concerning music censorship in China. Jeroen de Kloet has done extensive field research in Beijing about its local music cultures.

‘Music censorship in China’

Click to see the video interview


Glimpses from the history of music censorship in China

Shanghai-based composer and songwriter Li Jinhui was banned (if only ineffectually) by the ruling Nationalist Party, and repeatedly came under attack from the socialist left because of the association of his music with the colonial, petit-bourgeois culture of urban Shanghai. Li Jinhui had been experimenting with mixing Chinese folk tunes and Big Band jazz since 1927, with the idea of creating not just a Chinese version of jazz but Chinese jazz. Li Jinhui also promoted the idea of Mandarin as a national language in China and was a prolific composer of patriotic songs. The critics derided his music as “Huangse Yinyue” – “Yellow music” – because of its sexual associations. That led it to being derided as pornographic. His creation of “yellow music” brought opprobrium from both ends of the political spectrum and he was branded a “corruptor” of public morals and was hounded to his death during the Cultural Revolution.

In 1966, Mao became troubled by the pervasive influence of Western music. He abruptly resolved the issue by banning Westernization altogether during the violent and disruptive purges conducted throughout his Cultural Revolution. Overnight, all things Western were banned, including Western-oriented classical music. Beethoven and Brahms were out, and traditional Chinese music was in. Along with other intellectuals, Western-tainted music professors were sent out to labor in the rice paddies, and their pianos were smashed and burned by Mao’s Marxist thugs. Some musicians went silently underground to wait out the siege. Others committed suicide. By all accounts, the upheaval was an unmitigated social and cultural disaster. The Cultural Revolution only ended with Mao’s death in 1976.
Source: Washington Times

During the 1970s, when China had just emerged from its cultural revolution, Teresa Teng’s soft singing voice could be heard everywhere in the world where Chinese immigrants lived. Subsequently, her songs, which were touted by Chinese authorities as being “spiritual pollution”, and “decadent”, were banned in the 1980s. Her songs were so popular in Chinese Karaoke bars, however, that they bypassed the mainland censorship, and it was said that ”by day, Deng Xiaoping rules China, but by night, Deng Lijun rules.” (Teresa Teng is also known as: Teresa Deng / Teng Li-chün / Teresa Tang / Dèng Lìjūn) During much of the 1970s and 1980s, the ”eternal sweetheart” based herself in Japan and the United States. During her lifetime, she recorded over 100 albums. She performed in Paris during the 1989 Tiananmen student uprising, singing for the students and proclaiming her support for them and for democracy. She died 42 years old in 1995 of a severe asthma attack while in Thailand and left a trail of grieving fans the world over. Her old house in Hong Kong, which she bought in 1986, has become a shrine for her fans.
Sources: Wikipedia – about Teresa Teng and

1989 – Cui Jian I
The Chinese rock scene took off when Cui Jian, a trained classical trumpeter with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, was being introduced to the Anglo-American rock during the mid-1980s. As a trumpeter-cum-singer, his protest-rock style became well known to the worldwide media during the democracy movement in 1989. However, because of his provocative actions on stage, such as blindfolding his eyes with red cloth, which was taken to represent criticism of communism and a challenge to the authorities, a national tour by his band was forced to be cancelled. For a time after, Cui went into hiding. In the intervening years, however, he gradually re-emerged and was allowed to play various venues across China. But an open-air concert in the nation’s capital was always denied him. He was generally regarded as too dangerous – his elliptical lyrics, the power of his music, that swagger.
Once in the early 1990s, he took a stage in Nanjing, while performing at a government-endorsed event, leaned into the microphone and bellowed, ”So I see Nanjing is another one of my liberated areas!”
He’d also frequently do the red blindfold when he performed ’A piece of red cloth’, his song about growing up blinded by Communist Party ideals. But his most famous song remains ’Nothing to my name’, which became a kind of anthem for alienated Chinese youth in the 1980s.
In response to the song, a senior government official once retorted, “What does he mean he has nothing to his name? He’s got the Communist Party, hasn’t he?”
Source: ’Canto-pop Censorship in China & Singapore’

Restrictions on rock star Cui Jian were gradually lifted, but other rock concerts were banned, lyrics censored, and the new Chinese edition of Rolling Stone was shut down after just one issue in March 2006.
Imports of foreign music on tape and CDs have long been censored, and in April 2005, the authorities ordered the American rock band Rolling Stones not to play five of their raunchier tracks at their first Chinese concert.
In October 2006, China’s Ministry of Culture cancelled the live debut of New York rapper Jay-Z in Shanghai, citing his ”vulgar lyrics”.
On 12 December 2006 the Chinese Ministry of Culture said it must approve all imported network music distributed in the country.

2007 – Cui Jian II
In a climate of censorship, sometimes strong messages can be conveyed in music without the use of any words. Gasping and choking on stage, Cui Jian was understood to be commenting on the current wave of Chinese censorship when in front of an audience of more than 10,000 young Beijing citizens in September 2007, he acted as if he was caught in a dream and then awakened, wanting to sing a song but instead ”something strange” came out of his throat: ”Strange voices… other voices… something weird…”. With a sax wailing in the background, Cui Jian’s constant chorus was one of gasping, choking, struggling – to be heard and understood.
”It might well have been a comment on the current wave of Chinese censorship,” reported Bill Schiller from the Canadian newspaper Toronto Star who experienced Cui Jian’s performance at the third annual Beijing Pop Festival in Chaoyang Park. This was the first time Cui Jian played to an open-air audience in Beijing since he had been entertaining protesting students at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The 42-year-old ”father of Chinese rock ‘n’ roll” has often been banned in China and viewed by the communist government as the ”bad boy” of Chinese music largely due to his use of the rock format and more particularly his politically charged lyrics. For the most part, however, Cui has actually taken care in his lyrics not to directly criticize the party or China’s leaders. His performance at the Beijing Pop Festival was no exception.

The international organisation Freemuse which monitors and advocates musician’s freedom of expression world-wide, reported in 2007 that Chinese censorship policies apparently are in a positive process of change.
For instance, Beijing officials who seven years ago banned the music of pop star Chang Hui-mei, better known as A-mei, now use her name to improve political ties between mainland China and the small island of Taiwan.
After she had sung the national anthem at the inauguration of Taiwan’s president Chen Shui-bian in May 2000, she was totally banned from performing and selling records in China, and radio stations in mainland China ceased broadcasting her music – due to the previous tense relationship between Taiwan and China in which the latter fails to recognise Taiwan as an individual nation. Taiwan proclaimed its independence from mainland China in 1949. As a consequence, the American soft drinks giant Coca-Cola was forced to drop a multi-million dollar advertising campaign in China which featured A-mei on the posters.

Speaking of censorship…
On 23 October 2007, most of the information which has now been placed on this page on was placed by a Freemuse staff member on a page in – an open encyclopedia on the internet which invites anyone to edit it – with the following URL:’s_Republic_of_China#Music

Without explanation it has since been deleted from that page, apparently in… an act of censorship? The socalled “free” encyclopedia certainly has its own issues with freedom of expression to deal with.
See also: ‘Freemuse blacklisted in ”free” encyclopedia’

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