China just banned people from listening to hip-hop

A state-run newspaper describing hip-hop reduced it to a “tool for people to vent their anger, misery, complaints.”

Jan 27, 2018
Chinese Hip Hop Artist VAVA

Photo courtesy of 華納音樂 Warner Music Taiwan Official

In China, where hip-hop culture has been bubbling into the mainstream government censors aren’t taking any chances to see if it sticks around. At least on television, censors have issued an outright ban on rap and urged people to put the kibosh on anything to do with hip-hop or the vulgarity they claim it represents.

According to a story in Reuters, a state-run newspaper describing the music reduced hip-hop to a “tool for people to vent their anger, misery, complaints”.

In the reality, the beef between the Chinese government and the music and culture born in the Bronx is nothing new. Rap and hip-hop started to take root in China over the past couple of decades, and it continues to blossom because of the internet and a committed underground scene of hip-hop enthusiasts.

People dodge government censors to consume the culture and create their own take on it, and the music just keeps finding a way to get out there.


Censorship by the Chinese government has kept performers looking over their shoulders and erring on the side of caution when writing their lyrics. Many have admitted to making sure their bars aren’t overly controversial, or too anti-government, according to coverage of China’s rap scene.

Censorship of hip-hop culture, according to Reuters, is a move by the government to dissuade youth dissent. It’s the kids getting too rowdy and talking back that they’re worried about. Being a trap rapper isn’t conducive to following strict government guidelines for how one is supposed to act, most would agree.

What also likely pushed censors to react recently was the fact a television program The Rap of China was breaking all sorts of viewership records when the first season aired this summer.

“A memo surfaced last week after a meeting of the state authority which oversees press and television and has almost total control over what can appear on air. The memo said programs could no longer feature any hip-hop content or artists,” the BBC reported.

GettyImages 909444126 Snoop Dogg takes us to church with a weed infused Gospel album
Photo by: VCG /Getty Images

The rapper PG One, who was one of the breakout stars of the show, got in hot water for what government siding entities were saying were misogynistic lyrics. PG One was forced to publicly apologize for his lyrics, which he removed from the internet while making the oddly racist suggestion that it was the influence of black culture that led him down the wrong rap path.

For the last few years people have been putting together rap groups and releasing music and making videos in China,  blogs such as have kept track of some of the early years of local rap artists.

“I don’t like mentioning things I shouldn’t mention,” Rapper Sun Bayi, a contestant on Rap of China told the BBC last year.

In a lot of ways, hip-hop is deemed a subversive act in China. Except when it’s not.

While hip-hop– in the form of trap music and say-what-you-will gangsta posturing– has been vilified, it’s also been used as a tool to reach a wider audience. The government has actually backed rap groups in the past. In 2016 the group CD Rev was the subject of a Time magazine article about their work for the Chinese government propaganda machine.

“ [Their song] ‘This Is China’ fits into a campaign by China’s ruling party to soften its image amid overseas criticism of Beijing’s muscular foreign policy and domestic human-rights crackdown.”


The same group offered up a video criticizing a US missile system, among other things. The NY Times wrote about the group  saying their lyrics were aimed “at the United States’ alliance with South Korea and the rise in tensions.”

Chinese rap, though, is going through a phase and getting too hard to handle for a lot of the government establishment. The trap influence, heavy on the street swag, the neck tattoos, and threatening posture, might be a bit much for China’s Ministry of Culture. In other words, it’s getting too real.

Still, the talk about money, having nice cars and the influence of generations of US rap are the kinds of thing you would expect in a country making more and more millionaires every day.

China is expected to become a world power soon enough. It makes sense that world power would have people to rap about it.

But for now, there may be too much attention on Chinese rappers. Unlike those hip-hop heads who hone their craft on the underground scene, a wave of media coverage has brought attention to the stars of the culture. Another NY Times article recently covered a hip-hop festival in Chengdu, in many ways the current Chinese hip-hop capital. But there’s also been plenty of negative coverage.

The rapper Fat Shady was the subject of negative feedback when he made a track that can loosely be translated to “Stupid Foreigners,” although most will say that’s the nicer translation. Either way, the song raised censors’ eyebrows, and most called it a racist attack.


For years a rap underground has flourished in China, on its own means, and the true fans can always retreat to that if the government starts to push too much.

Jan 27, 2018