Chinese Studies Popular Music in the Sinophone World
Ying Xiao, Chuan Wang
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0210


Popular music is central to modern culture and contemporary society, which is broadly understood as a popular expression and social and cultural practice aimed for mass appeal and commercial success. In China, a rising superpower in today’s world, popular music has not only attracted serious attention from academics and critics, but it also has been embraced and appreciated by a wide audience in Greater China and across the globe. Chinese popular music emerged as a relatively new field since the 1980s galvanized by and following in the footsteps of China’s opening-up, market reform, and economic boom. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a substantial amount of attention has been devoted to Western-derived music or influences such as rock and roll and hip hop and the expansive flow of Mandopop and Cantopop. Investigations of such genres largely revolve around the interactions between the local, national, and global, the issues of authorship and authenticity, market and industry, consumer culture, urban media culture and youth subculture, and so on. In a similar fashion, studies on Chinese folk songs that are often tied to particular localities, traditional roots, and ethnic groups also treat the revival and adaptation of Chinese popular folklore as a local response to the national discourse and the pervasive force of globalization. To put it simply, Chinese popular music is a result of East-West encounters and sociopolitical transformations China has undergone since the second half of twentieth century. Thus, a great deal of literature has not only looked into the pivotal roles popular music plays to integrate with the everyday experience and assert identities but also the ways how it reflects and engages sociopolitical changes. Politics and censorship are another important theme taken up and arousing heated debate in the literature. Other critical interventions into the broad field of Chinese popular music studies are cutting-edge attempts to examine the complex and fluid nature of popular music and how it has been implicated in the changing notions of masculinity, femininity, youth, ethnicity, and technological advance. Moreover, Chinese popular music is by no means a singular, monolithic entity. It is defined by multiple music genres (e.g., rock, hip-hop, folk, etc.), different dialects (e.g., Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, etc.), geographical areas (e.g., Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, overseas), and the opposites and conflations of rural/urban, public/private, official/resistant, commercial/independent. All these explorations demonstrate that studies of popular music in the Sinophone world is a rich, interdisciplinary field intersecting with and cross-fertilized by the various methods of cultural studies, film and media studies, political science, gender studies, sociology, linguistics, ethnomusicology, transnational and diaspora studies. This general guide lays out the most significant scholarly literature on the topics from different perspectives and disciplines. The selected references are primarily English sources, although the major works, journals, and web resources published in Chinese-language are also cited. Students, scholars, and an educated general reader interested in Chinese culture, in Asian studies, as well as in popular music in general would find this bibliography a handy starting point for advanced research.

Encyclopedias and General Overviews

Chinese popular music remains an important theme in the general surveys and large-scale volumes about Chinese culture and world music. A number of reference works and primers aimed at a broad readership have been published. Davis 2005 compiles over one hundred encyclopedia entries of Chinese music. Latham 2007 is a handy introduction to Chinese popular music and popular culture in the post-Mao era with extended glossaries and references. Manuel 1988 looks through the history of Chinese music from the Republican era until the post–Cultural Revolution period. Shepherd, et al. 2005 introduces the development of Chinese popular music in terms of different geographical locations in the multivolume reference to world popular music. Martin and Mihalka 2020 is a three-volume encyclopedia of world music, including entries on Chinese pop music, Cantopop, and Taiwanese music. Critical analyses often trace and situate the development of Chinese popular music in the contexts of Chinese culture, society, historical and political changes. Zha 1995 examines the impact of the Tiananmen crackdown on popular music production and consumption in China. Barmé 1999 inspects different facets of Chinese culture and tackles in particular the political discourse of contemporary popular music. Huot 2000 is an overview of the transformation of cultural productions such as popular music during China’s socioeconomic transitions. Ho 2017 surveys the role of popular music in Chinese music education.

  • Barmé, Geremie. In the Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

    A wide-ranging critical study of contemporary Chinese culture in the 1990s. The rise of pop and rock music, as well as Karaoke bars, are important examples that demonstrate the inextricable intertwining between official discourse and popular mass culture and what Barmé has identified as the dialectics of rebellion and co-option in postsocialist China. An essential reading for scholars and students in Chinese studies.

  • Davis, Edward L., ed. Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

    A comprehensive overview of contemporary Chinese culture since 1979. The categorized entry of “Music” includes over one hundred names and terms that gives substantial weight to the scenes of popular music, rock music, and music in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The encyclopedia provides a useful guide for students doing research on Chinese studies in general as well as the related, focused topics.

  • Ho Wai-chung. Popular Music, Cultural Politics and Music Education in China. New York: Routledge, 2017.

    This pioneering monograph explores the uses and meanings of popular music in music education in Mainland China since the beginning of the twenty-first century. It depicts the complex interrelationships of popular music, music education, and sociopolitical transformations, primarily based on empirical case studies in Beijing, Shanghai, and Changsha.

  • Huot, Claire. China’s New Cultural Scene: A Handbook of Changes. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1515/9780822396314

    A well-illustrated exploration of the “ongoing cultural revolution” during China’s market reform and globalization. The book examines a wide spectrum of cultural productions, including literature, film, fine arts, and popular music, straddling between high and popular cultures and reflecting sociopolitical turns in contemporary China. It offers a cross-cultural analysis by paralleling distinctly Chinese cultural phenomena with their Western counterparts. Chapter 6 discusses rock music in China. Chapters 2 and 6 highlight women performers and artists in China.

  • Latham, Kevin. Pop Culture China! Media, Arts, and Lifestyle. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007.

    A comprehensive introduction to the popular cultural landscape in post-Mao China. The book divides into three main parts: mass media, consumption, and theater and music, which are surveyed in fourteen chapters extensively. Chapter 14 introduces the topic of popular music. Background information, expansive glossaries, and cross-references make it a handy reference for researchers and general readers interested in Chinese society and culture.

  • Manuel, Peter. Popular Musics of the Non-Western World: An Introductory Survey. New York: Oxford University Press,1988.

    A broad survey of major non-Western popular music genres and cultures. The book includes illustrations and sheet music with lyrics. The chapter on China explores how sociopolitical, cultural, and technological factors affected the development and trend of Chinese popular music by chronicling the history of Chinese music in the twentieth century from the Republican era to communist China and the post–Cultural Revolution period. A good source for readers with some basic music concepts.

  • Martin, Andrew R., and Matthew Mihalka, eds. Music around the World: A Global Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2020.

    A three-volume encyclopedia of world music. The volumes cover information on music, music cultures and genres, musicians, and music instruments from around the globe. Entries are arranged alphabetically and include cross-references and bibliographies for further reading. There are sections on “Cantopop” and “Chinese Pop” in Volume 1 and a section on “Taiwanese Traditional and Popular” in Volume 3. Cross-references and index have internal hyperlinks in the eBook edition. An accessible tool for students and beginner researchers.

  • Shepherd, John, David Horn, and Dave Laing, eds. Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. Vol. 5. New York: Bloomsbury, 2005.

    A twelve-volume encyclopedia of popular music around the world. Entries in this volume are organized by geographic locations with a particular concentration on popular music in Asia and Oceania. Main entries related to Chinese popular music discuss the history, culture, the important genres, and practices in different regions and cities including Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Available online through subscription.

  • Zha Jianying. China Pop: How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture. New York: New Press, 1995.

    A highly accessible book about the development of Chinese popular culture after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. It examines socioeconomic, cultural, and psychological changes of China through the firsthand interviews and stories of individual intellectuals and artists. Chapter 7, “Islanders,” concerns media industry and the production and consumption of popular music through the case studies of a Hong Kong investor in mainland China and Ai Jing, a famous female Chinese folk-rock singer.

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