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100 Chinese Rappers Salute ‘Lit’ Nation on Communist Party’s 100th Birthday

A group of 100 Chinese rappers have contributed to a 15-minute cypher dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party.

HONG KONG — A group of 100 Chinese rappers have contributed to a 15-plus-minute cypher dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party on Thursday (July 1), remaking a music genre known for challenging authority into one serving the establishment.

The song, titled “100%,” sings the praises of the rise of China and the achievements of the ruling party, such as overcoming famine, developing cutting-edge internet technology, excelling in sports and sending rockets into space. It has sparked controversy in China, where the ruling party is known to censor speech and artistic expression.

“New high-speed trains, new ports, new looks, new story. Go China, rejuvenate the great nation,” says one part of the lyrics. “Our spaceships are flying in the sky, the new China is lit,” goes another.

While most of China’s best-known rappers are missing from the song’s list of collaborators, high-profile names such as Jiang Yunsheng, a star of popular reality TV show Rap for Youth, took part in the project. Jiang now boasts a pool of over 2 million followers on the microblogging platform Weibo.

Hip-Hop Fusion, a Shenzhen-based hip-hop culture platform that produced the song, says it’s meant to “express the patriotic soul of the rappers.”

Not all rap fans see the anniversary song as a seemingly patriotic act. Comments on Weibo have called the “100%” rappers “100 slaves” for singing alongside the country’s rising wave of nationalism, while others criticize the song for trying to make a quick buck.

“If music like this spreads to foreign countries it will make people laugh to death,” wrote one user, AKA破坏, on Weibo. “It’s really shameful.”

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Chinese streaming platform NetEase Cloud Music released the song on June 20, but later took it down amid an outpouring of negative comments on social media. (A spokesperson for NetEase did not respond to requests for comment.)

Come Lee, founder of Hip-Hop Fusion, explained on Weibo that he first got the idea for the song in 2019 before the PRC’s 70th anniversary, when he invited 70 artists to each write a few lines about China’s rise and record them. The project was later put aside because the artists couldn’t release it before the anniversary.

The rappers restarted the project this year and invited 30 more artists to participate. Lee said he did not pay the artists. When Hip-Hop Fusion released the song, the cultural platform said on Weibo that it was “a pioneering work in the global music history.”

From underground to mainstream

In recent years, hip-hop has emerged as a popular music genre among China’s youth. Since 2017, talent shows such as The Rap of China and Rap for Youth have generated hundreds of millions of views and created a new group of on-the-rise young artists.

However, unlike elsewhere around the world — where hip-hop is known for challenging authority and speaking out against oppression — Chinese rappers are expected to maintain a clean image and keep in line with party rules in order to survive in the mainstream market.

In January 2018, after the rap shows’ skyrocketing popularity, regulators ordered producers not to invite tattooed artists to promote hip-hop culture on TV shows, while also banning artists who look too “vulgar.”

“This was kind of a wake-up call for Chinese rappers,” says Nathanel Amar, director of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China in Taipei, who studies China’s popular music. “You may be very popular among Chinese youth, the hit TV show may be streamed by millions of people, but the party-state will always have the last word and can censor a whole genre for weeks if they don’t comply with the positive energy promoted by the party.” (The term refers to a phrase that became part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s directive that the cultural industries should communicate “positive energy.”)

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After the January 2018 censorship, Amar says, rappers gradually re-appeared on Chinese TV and internet, but they had to comply with the official narrative — even if it’s just lip service — to continue thriving in the mainstream.

GAI, an artist who was first known as a gangster rapper before hitting the mainstream through his participation on The Rap of China, was banned during the crackdown and later came back with more nationalist songs.

In China, the entertainment business has played a prominent role in state propaganda in recent years. “The Party has indeed a long tradition of using culture and popular culture in order to reach a wider audience, and especially the youth demographic,” Amar says. “At each anniversary we can see artists being mobilized for propaganda.”

In 2011, the patriotic movie The Founding of a Party featured hundreds of Chinese and Hong Kong actors celebrating the party’s 90th anniversary. During the 2019 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, a number of China’s top rappers shared posts condemning the protesters while praising the city’s police.

Lee from Hip-Hop Fusion, writing on Weibo, said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the negative reception to the song. “Since when did rappers showing their patriotism become a shameful thing, or a type of ‘suck-up’ behavior?” he said.

Lee did not respond to an email request for comment.