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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, October 06, 2003
    The great wall of Chinese sound
     
    Asked the question, "What do you know about the Chinese community in Liverpool?" me and my night school classmates shrugged at first. But it didn't take long before we discovered we knew quite a bit: the oldest Chinese settlement in Europe, the biggest Chinese arch outside of China, historic links with Shanghai, shipping, the laundry trade, the Everton connection (Li Tie, Keijan), and any number of favourite restaurants. Stella Lau of Liverpool University's Institute of Popular Music took us from there through a fascinating cultural history followed by a survey of Chinese music, from traditional, opera, to 'Cantopop' and indie.

    She has written that 'Chinese in Britain have often been subject to an 'inbetween-ness' of identities and hybridity of ethnicities.' The gatekeepers have addressed this tension by by trying to sustain the historic identity, such as those running music courses in Liverpool's Chinese community centre, who teach only traditional music to young people.

    Ex-dj, pop journalist and Hong Kong HMV Megastore employee Stella thinks this is a shame because it blocks the potential for diversity and proliferation. It got us into a fascinating discussion about identity and authenticity. Bowie's line: "My little China Girl / You shouldn't mess with me / I'll ruin everything you are" suggests the danger of Western culture swamping the East through the entertainment industry; while Stella's report of an interview Bowie gave to a Chinese rock journal, where he showed insightful appreciation of Chinese styles of music, particularly its melodics, illustrates the converse - how Western culture can be, and is, enriched by 'other' musics.

    Fascinating history, interesting dialogue. All through one young woman's enthusiastic teaching. Means that I'll be able to walk down Nelson Street in future with some affinity beyond a shared love of crispy duck; and maybe with a Tats Lau song or two in my heart.