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The History of Chinese Pop Music
by Alex Cosper (4/9/13)

Chinese pop music has come to be nicknamed "C-pop." The term began to surface in the 1920s with the influence of American jazz music. Li Jinhui is often cited as the "father of Chinese popular music." He introduced new musical styles that became popular in China but were met with resistance from the government. His music incorporated Chinese folk and his songs commented on politics. He viewed his songs as music of the common people. His recordings were labeled "Yellow Music" or pornographic music by the communist government after it formed in 1949. Ultimately, his music influenced two common strands of C-pop known as cantopop and mandopop.

Cantopop is also known as Cantonese popular music or sometimes Hong Kong popular music. This genre encompasses a blend of both Chinese and western music. It includes elements of jazz, rock, soul and electronic music. Performed mostly in Cantonese, cantopop songs have their roots in Shanghai music of the 1920s. Another early influence of this genre was film actor/singer Zhou Xuan in the 1930s and 1940s. During the 1960s the youth were fans of American and British rock stars such as the Beatles while cantopop was considered traditional. Film star Connie Chan rose to fame in the sixties also as a teenage Cantonese opera singer. Cantopop music became very popular in the 1980s and 1990s with artists such as Anita Nui, Leslie Cheung and Alan Tam.

Mandopop refers to Mandarin popular music, in which most of the songs are sung in Mandarin. In addition to China, this music is popular in Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. As the Chinese government began to become more open minded about popular music in the 1970s, mandopop began to spread. The Economic Reform and Opening-up Policy (CEROP) of 1978 ended the era of one monopoly controlling music, which was the China Record Corporation (CRC). Due to Singapore's 1979 campaign to promote the Mandarin language, mandopop rose to popular acceptance. By the 1980s bans had been lifted on mandopop as artists of that era included Teresa Teng and social commentary singer Lo Ta-yu. In the 1990s the top mandopop singers were Aaron Kwok, Leon Lai, Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung, known as the "Four Heavenly Kings."

In the 2000s Taiwan produced several mandopop stars, as reflected in TV shows and films. New technology has also influenced the rise of indie music in both China and Taiwan. Some of the emerging artists of the new century have been Chris Lee, Jason Zhang Jie and Sodagreen. Artists who have incorporated traditional Chinese instruments in their music have been Jay Chou, Lin Jun Jie and Leehom Wang. Traditional Chinese instruments include the seven string guqin, the four string pipa and the smaller four string liuqin. These plucked instruments trace back many centuries.

The Global Chinese Pop Chart was established in 2001 by seven Chinese radio stations, ranking the most popular C-pop music, which is now composed of mandopop, cantopop and Hokkien pop. The organization also hands out annual awards. The first online music companies to emerge in China were 9Sky in 1999 and A8 Music Group in 2000. Digital sales began to exceed CDs and other formats in 2005. China's most popular search engine, Baidu, helped raise the popularity of digital music, despite facing many copyright issues. In 2011 Baidu agreed to pay labels for making the music available online. Based on 2012 sales, China was ranked number 20 on the IFPI's list of top music markets in the world.

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