influences on Mainland China are in general dominated by
things like hideous peach-colored high rise apartments and
cotton candy puff-pop music from the likes of Ah Mei. But
Taiwan has also contributed one of the most enduring cultural
icons of the last two decades. England gave America the
Beatles, and Taiwan gave China singer-songwriter Luo Dayou,
whose 8 September performance in Shanghai is the musical event
that all of China is talking about.
China was closed off to the world during the Cultural
Revolution, but with the first glimmers of reform in the late
'70s and early '80s, a crack appeared through which outside
music began to seep in. Even before international influences
began to penetrate China's shell, cultural fragments from
Taiwan and Hong Kong began to appear. In contrast to the
Mainland's isolation, Taiwan since the 1950s was host to
American soldiers, and thus recipient of American radio and
emerging musical stylings. The first Taiwanese music to become
a sensation in China was syrupy songstress Teresa Teng (Deng
Lijun), whose soft ballads were big with the older crowd and
spawned a new genre of state-sanctioned gush music known as
For the younger
generation, however, the first music to touch their joint
consciousness was that of Luo Dayou. His simple, student folk
style songs and down-to-earth lyrics were first introduced to
the youth of China through Tongsu singers who regurgitated his
songs following the release of his first album in 1984. In the
mid '80s, young Chinese born between 1965 and 1975 were
primarily listening to Luo Dayou and John Denver, as well as
another Taiwanese singer Li Fengshi, who offered more catchy
tunes but without the depth of Luo's lyrics.
Luo Dayou, now 46, is of Hakka ancestry and started out as
a pharmacist. He started dabbling in music in the late 1970s.
He is neither a pop star nor a rocker but rather a musician,
and he considers himself primarily a songwriter. In addition
to his own eleven albums to date, he has written countless
songs for other Taiwanese singers, many of which have hit the
top ten, and he now has his own record label, called Music
Luo Dayou defies classification. His early music in particular
shows strong folk roots, and many of his songs tap into native
Taiwanese cultural influences. Some songs are reminiscent of
1950s American diner and soda shop rock, and others exhibit a
1970s lounge lizard growl. What captured the hearts of a
generation, however, were his lyrics, touching on issues of
life, attitudes, social responsibility, and the political
problems of both China and Taiwan with an underhandedly
critical strain of dark humor. The lyrical style is not
particularly artsy or complex, but rather conversational; the
cleverness comes in the meaning, not how the words are put
His 1984 debut album was titled "Zhi hu zhe ye," a
gibberish phrase of particles from classical Chinese used to
mock Confucian pedantry. The title song quipped,
If you know, you know; if you don't, you
Who said this? Confucius.
If you know, you
know; if you don't, you find out.
Who said this?
What are people saying these days?
Where will this get them?
Luo's most enduring songs also date from this album,
including "Childhood" (Tongnian), "Tomorrow will be
even better" (Mingtian hui geng hao), and "Little town
of Lugang" (Lugang Xiaogeng). Other favorites include
"Comrade Lover" (Qingren Tongzhi) and his Ballads: one
from 1980, one from 1990, and a third to be released with his
forthcoming 2000 album, his first release since 1994.
Dayou is an icon on the mainland, he has never gathered nearly
as large a following in Taiwan. He doesn't consider himself a
star, let alone an icon, and his driving interest is in life
and its minute, daily nuances. "In the twelve years I've been
with my wife [TV actress Li Lie], we've moved eight times,
traveled hundreds of thousands of kilometers, and seen how
life is different all over the world. People's lifestyles are
different North from South, East from West, in hot climates or
in cold. Even for Chinese, I've observed differences in daily
life between mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers,
Singaporeans, and overseas Chinese. These things, life, are
what matters, what I try to write about." He enjoys, for
example, venturing into grungy clubs, checking out
performances by underground bands, because he likes to see
where the youth get their energy, their inspiration.
Luo Dayou will be performing at the Shanghai Stadium on
Friday, September 8. Despite his icon status in China, and the
fact that the core of his fan base is here, he has never
before performed in mainland China. Shanghai will be the only
performance, so fans from all over China are making a
pilgrimage here for the show. Among them are many leading
figures of the Chinese music scene, who careers were first
inspired and influenced by Luo's music, including Cui Jian and the members of Thin Man.
If this China debut concert had been held ten years ago,
the Stadium would be crammed with screaming teeny-boppers.
Instead, it will be crammed by screaming white-collar thirty-
somethings, who have been awaiting this concert for a long,
long time. All 70,000 tickets for the Luo Dayou concert have
already sold out. Luo Dayou performed in the US last year, at
the Lincoln Center to an audience of 4500, but he has never
before performed in as large a venue as awaits him in
Shanghai. He admits to being rather nervous, is afraid that
when he's done, no one will clap. Somehow, I doubt that will
be a problem.