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Lesson Transcript

Amber: Hey everybody. Welcome back to our All About Chinese series. I’m Amber.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), I’m Victor.
Amber: And today we’re talking about pop culture in China.
Victor: Yes, Chinese pop culture.
Amber: Yeah. We’re going to bring you the China of today. And I think, Victor, that reporting on the state of pop culture in China is not easy.
Victor: Yeah, it’s a relatively new and developing concept in China.
Amber: Yeah, or maybe I'm just out of it, but the pop culture scene is still very young in finding itself. And I guess that is the essence of pop culture, though, it’s ever-changing and new.
Victor: Right. So this is a little record of Chinese pop culture 2009.
Amber: Yeah, and China is really developing a style and identity of its own. Some influences from the west, I think, have been embraced by the Chinese, but not all.
Victor: China has a very… because of being a very traditional society, has a very strong identity of its own.
Amber: Yeah, and a very nationalistic spirit. So you can see that coming through.

Lesson focus

Victor: One of the more developed aspects of pop culture in China is the popular music scene.
Amber: Yeah, Chinese pop music in recent history has, I think, kind of been dominated by artists from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and even some American born Chinese singers. Don’t you think, Victor?
Victor: I will say for the younger generation, yes. But there are some mainland favorites for some of the older generations.
Amber: Yeah, there’s some very iconic Chinese opera or traditional folk songs that everyone loves and everyone will sing at karaoke, young and old. So how would you describe Chinese pop music then, Victor?
Victor: I think it’s very emotional. People love ballads.
Amber: Which is funny because Chinese people don’t come across very emotional, but they love the ballads.
Victor: … the culture. I guess the music to express…
Amber: It’s the outlet.
Victor: Yeah, exactly. So very, very kind of emotional music scene.
Amber: It’s true. And then I have noticed too recently that the hip hop scene, the punk scene have also been growing in popularity.
Victor: Yes, in some bigger cities.
Amber: So, Victor, who is your favorite pop star
Victor: My favorite pop star is 那英 (Nàyīng). She is actually from my part of the country, so a little hometown pride here. She’s actually…
Amber: What was her name?
Victor: 那英 (Nàyīng). She’s one of the most famous ones from Mainland’s, and she’s very, very good.
Amber: Excellent. Having spent a lot of time in Taiwan, personally I have to say, well I feel a bit of a sellout after you supported the small guy, girl, but I like Jay Chou, that rapper from Taiwan.
Victor: Yeah, he’s quite huge. He’s an institution, really. Pop icon.
Amber: Exactly. Very hip hop, sort of… I hear he’s quite talented though. He knows how to play a lot of instruments etc. and he writes his own music.
Victor: Very popular. And he’s very famous or infamous for his poorly enunciated rap.
Amber: Yeah. I kind of tried to use one of his songs to learn Chinese. I couldn’t understand…
Victor: No, I mean, Chinese people can’t even understand him. And he admits to that himself. He says that.
Amber: It’s sort of his trademark.
Victor: Right, right.
Amber: Well, one thing is you will see him everywhere because basically in Taipei, every billboard has him on it. He does ads for tons of companies, anywhere from Pepsi, Panasonic.
Victor: Yeah, and he’s even played a few concerts in the US.
Amber: Yeah, he’s popular here too, I think, somewhat. Yeah, and interestingly, in the west, a lot of musicians think it’s selling out to endorse different brands, but in the Asian music scene it’s kind of considered evident of you success if you kind of get to be a sellout.
Victor: Kind of start power.
Amber: Exactly. Ok, now pop music in China cannot be mentioned without bringing up KTV.
Victor: Yes, my favorite.
Amber: It’s basically national pastime.
Victor: Karaoke, it is.
Amber: Yes, karaoke version of… it’s called in Chinese KTV. And basically it can be found anywhere. You’ll see old people in the parks. I’ve seen old people in parks drag out a generator and a TV and they’re singing karaoke with a microphone at the top of their lungs.
Victor: Both young and old, yes. In Chinese, I think it’s kind of funny, the name for karaoke is called 卡拉OK (kǎlā OK).
Victor: Yeah, it’s the translation of the Japanese word. OK literally just OK.
Amber: Yeah, it’s been embraced. Definitely. But the way that they do sing it is even in this big… you can do it in your home but there’s also this big 24-hour, kind of hotel style complexes.
Victor: You can just sing the night away.
Amber: Yeah, you rent the room, a private room, and you just have your friends in there, they usually bring your own beer or whatever, you can just go in there and…
Victor: Yeah, alcohol is a must when you try to sing all night.
Amber: My voice gets better the more I drink.
Victor: I’ve heard that. Sometimes people say you should drink a little bit of wine before you sing.
Amber: Or maybe I just think it helps.
Victor: I’m not a professional here, but I’ve heard that, yeah.
Amber: Yeah, but anyways, it should be noted that the Chinese take KTV very seriously. You can’t go in there and goof around. There’s even KTV lessons. People go and not take singing lessons, they actually teach the how to sing KTV better.
Victor: Everyone trying to become the Chinese Idol.
Amber: It’s true. And some of my friends, they sound like pop stars. I was like, “Wow! You should be a pop star.”
Victor: That’s great.
Amber: Ok, now, another thing that people like too in China is films.
Victor: Yes, movies. Very popular.
Amber: Yeah, and of course it’s true, you can get any Western movie on pirated DVD, but there are a lot of Chinese movies as well.
Victor: Yes, a lot of top movies in theatres are Chinese, not just Hollywood.
Amber: And that also could be related to the fact that only 20 foreign movies are allowed in Chinese theatres every year. So it’s kind of nice cause in that way I think it really promotes the Chinese film industry.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: But there are things that aren’t easy cause there is certain topics that film makers can’t really get into. There’s censors and restrictions on some films, right?
Victor: Right. But in the street it’s definitely growing in quality and quantity.
Amber: Yeah, because we know that a lot of films are now really popular in America, that are Chinese.
Victor: Right. And with gradually more and more open policies in the creative field, I will say.
Amber: Yeah, so some movies, of course, that most people probably know from China or things like “Hero”, maybe “The Road Home”, some people know that maybe…
Victor: “The House of Flying Daggers”.
Amber: Or for me, “Coaching Tiger, Hitting Dragon” is what inspired me to learn Chinese.
Victor: Chinese people flying over roof tops.
Amber: It’s more like the Mandarin sounded so beautiful in in. I was like, “I want to speak that language.”
Victor: And the flying.
Amber: No, the flying was kind of, but I haven’t mastered the flying yet.
Victor: Everybody wants to fly.
Amber: Yeah, and then there’s a lot of Chinese stars that got famous because of these big movies. Like one…
Victor: Very famous, 章子怡 (Zhāngziyí).
Amber: Yeah. But the funny thing about 章子怡 (Zhāngziyí) is that she’s not very popular in China.
Victor: I will say she, along with some other young actresses, definitely represent the new generation of Chinese cinema. And she’s one of the bigger names.
Amber: But you know what? Most of my Chinese friends said, “We don’t understand why westerners made her a movie star,” they all don’t think she’s very beautiful. Maybe Chinese people look at her definitely.
Victor: Yeah, but she’s definitely still very big right now in China.
Amber: Ok, enough about girls. Let’s talk about sexy, handsome Chinese men. Who’s a big start for China, male star, actor?
Victor: I think someone who’s done a lot of roles. And everyone knows it’s Andy Lau. And his Chinese name is 刘德华 (Liúdéhuá).
Amber: Yeah, he’s a huge star. He’s actually originally from Hong Kong. Very sexy man, I have to say.
Victor: He’s a huge star.
Amber: He’s done probably over 100 movies, right? For sure.
Victor: And music, albums and TV series. He’s been around for over 20 years.
Amber: Yeah, and he’s kind of the Chinese equivalent of, say, Tom Cruise. If you want your movie to be a guaranteed success, then you would have Andy Lao star in it.
Victor: Very successful.
Amber: And now he’s definitely broken into the international market, because he was in the “House of Flying Daggers”, right?
Victor: Right. And he was in the Chinese version of “The Departed”.
Amber: Oh, really?
Victor: Yeah, “The Departed” was based on a Chinese or Hong Kong series and he was one of the stars.
Amber: Yes. Well, there’s no doubt most women, probably in China, including myself, find him very sexy and charming. I’d make out with him. Ok, anyways.
Victor: I think he’s recently gotten married actually.
Amber: Oh, what? Outraged. Anyways, onto TV. I guess pop culture does involve TV. Now one thing I noticed is everyone loves those period dramas, right Victor?
Victor: Yes, and there are a lot of variety and game shows.
Amber: Yeah, I actually noticed that every time you turn a channel, there’s some high pitched Beijing opera. It must be popular.
Victor: On all the time, yes.
Amber: But who’s watching it? Maybe old people like that.
Victor: But in the past few years, TV has begun to change a lot.
Amber: Yeah, maybe some people might wonder. Are there American TV shows on Chinese TV?
Victor: You’ll be surprised. In the 80s and early 90s, the show “Growing Pains” was a huge hit in China. It was unbelievable. Yeah. Shows like “Growing Pains” and “Full House”.
Amber: Family oriented.
Victor: Yeah, family oriented. Because it kind of gives insight into American way of life, I think. So people are very curious and it was a huge, huge hit, “Growing Pains”. I have all the DVDs still. And I still remember watching them on Chinese TV when I was a kid, growing up. And it dubbed over all the voices and it’s very interesting. Right now, though, a lot of people can watch things on DVDs and recently “Prison Break” is a huge hit in China.
Amber: Yeah, that’s true. Well, I know that those shows are available on DVDs everywhere, but they haven't’ really hit the Chinese airwaves, they’re not on official Chinese TV, right?
Victor: Yeah. Sometimes the government considers them too violent or too sexual for the Chinese audience.
Amber: Yeah. A lot of people are still watching them, but just not on the TV channel.
Victor: Yeah. That has a lot of influence on Chinese TV tastes. TV stations have chosen to adopt some of the US most iconic series and remake them into uniquely Chinese versions.
Amber: Yeah, this is very interesting. For example, there is one series called “Wanting to Fall in Love” and basically it’s just a knock off of “Sex And The City”.
Victor: The Chinese version.
Amber: But toned down quite a bit for the Chinese version.
Victor: And another hugely popular show was the mainland version of American Idol. Actually there are quite a few shows kind of like American Idol.
Amber: The hugely popular one was called…
Victor: Supergirl or 超级女声 (chāojí nǚshēng). Supergirl, 超级女声 (chāojí nǚshēng).
Amber: Yes. It was definitely the most popular show a couple of years ago. But it got cancelled though, I heard.
Victor: Yeah, but it kind of reinvented itself into another show called Happy Girls. They’re just kind of like the same thing.
Amber: Happy Girls. So it’s like American Idol still, but just with girl performing.
Victor: Just with girls. But there’s also a show called Happy Boys so…
Amber: Everybody’s happy.
Victor: And there are other type of shows on CCTV and for the whole country and stuff like that.
Amber: Modeled after that same style.
Victor: Exactly.
Amber: Well it’s interesting the influence that there is from the west then, to some degree, but they make a Chinese version of it.
Victor: I think it’s really interesting to see how China receives Western popular culture, because it’s a very traditional society. So some aspects of the Western culture are kind of deemed inappropriate or indecent, so China doesn’t…
Amber: It’s kind of a love-hate relationship.
Victor: Exactly. It doesn’t really entirely embrace it, but kind of accepts them through their own lenses. Which I think makes sense to the society itself.
Amber: Yeah. So, for example, English signs on shops and even on T-shirts, like English letters it’s all the rage.
Victor: Yeah, even though they don’t understand what it means sometimes. Yes. And American style suburbs are all the rage right now.
Amber: And even Hollywood celebrities, sports stars, western sports stars have really big fan followings. So that being said, what kind of stuff that’s popular that’s come from abroad?
Victor: Well, one thing that’s really popular is basketball.
Amber: Oh, yes. Probably a lot of it it’s because of Yao Ming, right? The player for the Texas whatever they’re called.
Victor: Especially since he went through the NBA, it’s catching up with ping pong in popularity.
Amber: Yeah, and in all the parks in the cities of China, bigger cities, you’ll see kids playing basketball.
Victor: And the government’s efforts have spurred game’s growth in China, but Yao Ming is definitely the key factor. People love him. Interestingly, I was just reading BBC the other day, and they found a new tallest man in China.
Amber: What? Taller than Yao Ming?
Victor: Tallest man in the world, in China.
Amber: That’s so weird. Why is suddenly the tallest man, so many short men.
Victor: The last one was in China as well, but this one is 27 years old and he is 8 feet 1.
Amber: Watch out Yao Ming.
Victor: Yes, but he plays basketball too, so… interesting little fact there.
Amber: Wow. That’s crazy. Other pop culture trends, Victor? I think something that comes to mind is 土豆 (tǔdòu). This is on the internet. Now, 土豆 (tǔdòu), basically it means “potato” in Chinese, which is funny. But it’s like the Chinese equivalent of YouTube.
Victor: Yeah, and it’s even bigger than YouTube. They say the total amount of minutes of videos being streamed daily from 土豆 (tǔdòu) is huge, about 15 billion minutes, versus 3 billion for YouTube.
Amber: And because of things like intellectual property and stuff, problems, you can’t really watch many movies on YouTube. However, I’ve often found, in America, you can go to 土豆 (tǔdòu) or 优酷 (yōukù), which is another similar website and see movies.
Victor: Yes, I love that website.
Amber: The power of the internet. Ok, and then another thing I can talk about, being a girl, of course, I notice fashion.
Victor: Yes, fashion in China?
Amber: Yes. I’ve noticed even in the past few years a shift in styles in China. Nowadays, big brand names are huge and – Victor I don’t know if you know this cause you’re not a girl – but girls will spend sometimes their whole month’s salary on a Gucci bag or some brand name bag.
Victor: Or maybe want their boyfriends to do that.
Amber: Actually, yeah, yeah. Actually you might be right. I don’t really know how it works cause no one’s ever bought me a Gucci bag. Anyway, but the bags are definitely a symbol of status for women in the bigger cities of China today. And it’s really important for girls. They will make a lot of sacrifices to have something brand name. and coming to my being a girl, sorry Victor, I have more to say on this fashion subject, but another thing that’s really catching on in China today is the Chinese equivalent of eBay. Do you know it?
Victor: Yeah. 淘宝 (táobǎo).
Amber: 淘宝 (táobǎo).
Victor: Yeah. 淘宝 (táobǎo).
Amber: 淘宝 (táobǎo) is huge and eBay even tried to break into the China market and they could not. 淘宝 (táobǎo) conquered them.
Victor: Yeah, it’s the homegrown version. And it literally means to find treasures, right? Explore treasures. 淘宝 (táobǎo).
Amber: You can find many treasures on there. Girls are always on 淘宝 (táobǎo), ordering, buying things. Ok, so that’s a big of China pop culture as of this date in history, Victor.