Cries of Joy, Songs of Sorrow: Chinese Pop Music and Its Cultural Connotations
182pp. January 2010
Cries of Joy, Songs of Sorrow: Chinese Pop Music and Its Cultural Connotations
Author: Moskowitz, Marc L.;
Since the mid-1990s, Taiwan’s unique brand of Mandopop (Mandarin Chinese–language pop music) has dictated the musical tastes of the mainland and the rest of Chinese-speaking Asia. Cries of Joy, Songs of Sorrow explores Mandopop’s surprisingly complex cultural implications in Taiwan and the PRC, where it has established new gender roles, created a vocabulary to express individualism, and introduced transnational culture to a country that had closed its doors to the world for twenty years.

In his early chapters, Marc L. Moskowitz provides the historical background necessary to understand the contemporary Mandopop scene, beginning with the birth of Chinese popular music in the East Asian jazz Mecca of 1920s Shanghai. A brief overview of alternative musical genres in the PRC such as Beijing rock and revolutionary opera is included. The section concludes with a look at the manner in which Taiwan’s musical ethos has influenced the mainland’s music industry and how Mandopop has brought Western music and cultural values to the PRC. This leads to a discussion of Taiwan pop’s exceptional hybridity, beginning with foreign influences during the colonial period under the Dutch and Japanese and continuing with the country’s political, cultural, and economic alliance with the U.S. Moskowitz addresses the resulting wealth of transnational musical influences from the rest of East Asia and the U.S. and Taiwan pop’s appeal to audiences in both the PRC and Taiwan. In doing so, he explores how Mandopop’s "songs of sorrow," with their ubiquitous themes of loneliness and isolation, engage a range of emotional expression that resonates strongly in the PRC.

Later chapters examine the construction of male and female identities in Mandopop and look at the widespread condemnation of the genre by critics. Drawing on analyses and data from earlier chapters (including interviews with dozens of performers, song writers, and lay people in Taipei and Shanghai), Moskowitz attempts to answer the question: Why, if the music is as bad as some assert, is it so central to the lives of the largest population in the world? To answer, he highlights Mandopop’s important contribution as a poetic lament that simultaneously embraces and protests modern life.

Cries of Joy, Songs of Sorrow is a highly readable introduction to an important but understudied East Asian phenomenon. It will find a ready audience among scholars and students of Chinese and Taiwanese popular culture as well as musicologists studying transnational music flows and non-Western popular music.

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“Well written and well structured, inspiring and often refreshing, [this book] fills an important gap in ethnomusicological research. It is therefore an indispensable source for readers who are interested in understanding Taiwan’s popular music, Asian popular music culture and Mandopop.” —The World of Music (1, 2012)

“This is a wonderful book for many reasons, not only because it offers an intelligent comparative account of one of the most understudied (and unjustly denigrated) subjects in the field of Chinese pop music and its impact in Taibei, Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, not just because it manages to evade the traps of talking of Chinese pop as imitative, but also because it demonstrates that importance of a gendered reading of song lyrics and music.” —The China Journal (65, 2011)
Author: Moskowitz, Marc L.;
Marc L. Moskowitz is associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Carolina.
Read the preface (PDF).

1. The Tail Wags the Dog: Taiwan’s Musical Counter-Invasion of China
2. China’s Mandopop Roots and Taiwan’s Gendered Counter-Invasion of the PRC
3. Hybridity and Its Discontents: Popular Music in Taiwan
4. Message in a Bottle: Lyrical Laments and Emotional Expression in Mandopop
5. Men Writing Songs for Women Who Complain about Men: Mandopop’s Gender Construction in Taiwan and the PRC
6. A Man for All Occasions: Charisma and Differing Masculinity in Mandopop
7. Mandopop Under Siege: Culturally Bound Criticisms of Taiwan’s Pop Music