Cui Jian is the king of rock in China. His songs are either about heartbreak or politics. Saying “politics” gives off the impression that there is some discussion of policy involved, but since there is only one political party in China you either agree with them or you are punished. So really his songs are either about heartbreak or oppression. He participated in the Tiananmen protests and afterwards would wear a red cloth over his eyes as protest. In most cases the government would have just jailed or killed a dissident like him but he was too high profile. So he spent a good 15 years being prevented from playing. When they did allow him to play he was censored (he wasn’t allowed to play his politically charged songs or wear the red bandana over his eyes). I was able to attend a stadium concert of his in the factory town of Shijiazhuang. There was a heavy police presence and they didn’t allow people on the field, only in the stands on the sides. As the show went on there were protests and large fires started. The way the Chinese people identify their struggles with his music has no equal in the Western world.
His most famous song is 1)I Have Nothing, a heartbreak song. His most famous political song is 12) Piece of Red Cloth, about the Tiananmen Square massacres. My favorite track is 11) Tolerate. It is about loving someone who will never love you back. It is an emotion we can all identify with and makes this song one of most beautiful songs I have ever heard.
So if you are an artist what I hope you learn from Cui Jian is that he was a man who sacrificed his career in order to say things others were being suppressed from saying. His art was real struggle. And what power art has.