Zhang Chu

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Zhang Chu
Born (1968-11-17) November 17, 1968 (age 45)
Xi'an, Shaanxi, China
Origin Xi'an, Shaanxi, China
Genres Alternative Rock, Post-rock, Ambient, Folk, Electronic, Chinese rock
Occupations Singer-songwriter, Musician, Composer, Poet
Years active 1988 - present
Website www.zhangchu.com

Zhang Chu (Chinese: ; pinyin: Zhāng Chǔ, born November 11, 1968) is a Chinese musician who was born in Xi'an, Shaanxi.

Lauded by many as "the most lonesome singer-poet", Zhang Chu has remained a prominent figure on Chinese rock scene despite not releasing a new album since 1997. In fact, his lyrics continues to be quoted frequently by a whole new generation of Chinese youth to this day, though few seem to truly grasp its meaning.

Biography[edit]

Mainstream audience got a first taste of Zhang Chu's distinctive brand of folk rock in 1992 through the by-now classic single "Sister". The song recounts a dark story of familial abuse and repression through the eyes of a child. The repeated exclamations of "Sister! I wanna go home. Take a hold of my hand, I'm a bit sleepy. Sister! I wanna go home. Take a hold of my hand, you don't need to be afraid" during the rousing chorus moved countless listeners to tears. The memorable melody and the emotional vocal delivery made the song an instant hit in China mainland, with its influence spreading to other Chinese speaking regions and countries. Zhang Chu himself confided years later that the song carried a political overtone which few seemed to detect. This is typical of his style, social satire which is subtle and easy to miss by the unsuspected. Similarly, his rollicking punk cover of the Red Standard "Socialism is Good" also left some of us wondering if this was not a tongue-in-cheek dig at the "People's Government".

In 1993 Zhang Chu's first album "A Heart cannot Fawn" was released. This is a collection of Zhang's early compositions (all written before 1990), though more than half of the songs were performed by other singers. With a terribly confused producer and at least equally confused singers who clearly did not understand what rock music was let alone the meaning of the songs, the album sounds like a curiously schizophrenic patchwork that was put together half-heartedly in a hurry. Nevertheless the raw originality of the songwriter shines through. In tracks like "BPMF" or "Westward out of Yang Guan", Zhang Chu quickly establishes his unmistakable style: narrative story-line, keen observation, easy-flowing verse and expressive voice.

Around the same time, Zhang Chu was signed to the ambitious Taiwan-based rock recording label "Muoyan" and in 1994 participated in the legendary "Chinese Rock Power" concert held at Hong Kong Arena. The headliners, besides Zhang Chu, also included Dou Wei (former lead singer of the early Chinese rock group Black Leopard) and He Yong (one of the first Chinese punk rockers). Hastily lumped together and marketed under the somewhat archaic sounding title of "The Three Prominents of Muoyan", these exciting new talents from China nevertheless went from unknown to famous overnight, stunning the Hong Kong audience with their energy and creativity, thus heralding "the spring of new music". Twenty-six-year-old Zhang Chu, with a face as fresh as a teenager, performed several songs from his next album while sitting almost motionless in a chair. This shy stage persona would soon become his trademark. People were once again amazed that such powerful vocals and thought-provoking lyrics could come from the body of an awkward child.

Following the critical acclaim and commercial splash in HK, Zhang Chu's second album <Loners are Disgraceful> produced several unconventional hit songs in his native China mainland, notably, the violin driven title song and the mostly spoken "Love". Again he always utilized deceptively simple diction, but was able to find symbolism in the most unlikely places, not to mention making highly original observations and summations of human behavior. In "Love", for example, Zhang Chu wrote:

我躺在我们的床上 床单很白
我看见我们的城市 城市很脏
我想着我们的爱情 它不朽 它上面的灰尘一定会很厚

I lie on our bed, the bedsheet is very white
I look at our city, the city is very dirty
I think about our love, it is eternal, the dust on it will surely be very thick

Merely a few lines have elevated the exceedingly common subject matter to a philosophical level. Zhang Chu's songs are full of such memorable quotes which could easily stand alone independent of the music, no wonder he quickly became widely celebrated on college campuses as well as among lovers of modern Chinese literature.

More proof of Zhang Chu's considerable talent with language came in the form of a pair of allegorical tracks on the album: "Ants ants" and "The fly". In "a bug's life" Zhang Chu style, the ants became a symbol of the lifestyle and attitudes of millions of Chinese peasants, whereas the fly was unexpectedly turned into the perfect totem of a generation of rock and roll youth:

一声声巴掌在我眼前耳边不断呼响 这给生活带来节奏却不能使我想要躲藏 别亲吻我 这让我羞心里惊慌 我要飞在被拍死在飞往纱窗的路上

The sounds of swatting hands keep going off before my eyes and next to my ears
This brings rhythm to my life but cannot make me want to hide
Don't kiss me, this make me shy and makes my heart panic
I want to fly on the way to being smashed while flying towards the screen window

For the next few years, Zhang Chu stayed in Beijing which was the undisputed center of Chinese rock scene. The newfound fame made the introverted singer increasingly uneasy, however. By all accounts, he avoided interviews and socialization, and rarely collaborated with other rockers. His next album <Aeroplane Factory> was conceived during this period, and once it was released in 1997 it was clear that Zhang Chu's musical taste had evolved beyond the confines of folk rock. In tracks like "The Zoo", one can detect influences ranging from alternative to experimental rock. As the musical style grew more varied, the instrumentals and melody became more robust and textured, while the lyrics became increasingly cryptic and abstract. Terms such as "stream-of-consciousness" were used by music critics to describe songs like "Idle":

There is no one on the bus I would like to know
Can't continue idling along now that I can't even see myself clearly
There is no one on the bus I would like to know
I thought, I thought

Heart grows tired from just crumbling up the fifty cent bus ticket, how far have I gone
The bus moves with perfect balance among the sky, the stores and the crowd
Heart gets tired from just crumbling up the fifty cent bus ticket, how far have I gone
I thought

How great would it be to spend five years of time living with a girl
How great would it be to spend five years of time living with a girl
I thought

Whereas in the past Zhang Chu's music had often been categorized as "humanistic" and "socially conscious", in this album we see him retreating deeper into his own psyche, isolation and mental conflicts became the overwhelming theme. <Aeroplane Factory> proved to be too difficult even for the contemporary music critics to decipher, it was no surprise then that its significance and connotation were largely lost on the record-buying public. Without the broad earthy appeal of earlier work such as "Sister", the album failed commercially to make any impact. However, it further solidified Zhang Chu's reputation as one of the most creative and avant-garde Chinese rock artists.

A few years after the release of <Aeroplane Factory>, Zhang Chu decided to leave Beijing and move back to his hometown, the ancient city of Xi'an. The precise reason behind this decision was not entirely clear, but according to some of the interviews he gave in recent years, it appeared that he felt the rock business in Beijing to be creatively constricting, also he felt guilty that some of his songs gave listeners negative emotional impacts. He virtually disappeared from the public eye over the next 4 years before finally reemerging in 2004 in a rock festival at Helan Mountain. To his surprise, rock fans never forgot about him, if anything his long absence earned him more respect because it was perceived as a sign of artistic integrity. Indeed, his refreshing originality and uncompromising independent spirit were sorely missed in a music scene where mindless commercialism and downright plagiarism ran rampant. Since then Zhang Chu has turned in a steady string of performances in various venues around the country, contributed the occasional track to compilation albums, while working intermittently on his fourth album. In July 2007, Zhang Chu reunited for the first time on stage with He Yong and Dou Wei at the Prairie Outdoors Rock Festival held in Inner Mongolia. In front of a jubilant audience, the legend of "The Three Prominents of Moyan" came to life once again. In November 2007, Zhang Chu announces that his funk-influenced new album will be released in 2008 and a supporting concert will be held at Beijing Exhibition Hall in April.

Albums[edit]

  • 1992 Sister (姐姐) in China Fire I (中国火壹)
  • 1993 A Heart Cannot Fawn (一颗不肯媚俗的心)
  • 1994 "Shameful being Left Alone" (official title) AKA "Loners are disgraceful"(孤独的人是可耻的)
  • 1995 My Eyelashes Are Almost Blown Away By The Wind in A Tribute To Zhang Ju (zaijian 张炬)
  • 1996 Known (认识了) in China Fire II (中国火贰)
  • 1997 Aeroplane Factory (造飞机的工厂)
  • 1998 So Big (这么大) in China Fire III (中国火叁)

External links[edit]