The Rap of China

With Alvin Li 7:00 p.m. 264 Canal Street, 3W
New York, New York 10013

At this invitational listening session, the Shanghai-based writer Alvin Li will present an hour-long playlist of Chinese-language hip hop: underground tracks and mainstream hits from the past three decades, produced in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In intermittent observations on dialect, genre, and changing media landscapes, Li will encourage attendees to listen to this music as an instrument of soft power as well as an authentic cultural form that is rooted in appropriation.

Li will consider how “made in China,” which once was an utterly derogatory epithet, has assumed a new valence in recent years. One emblem of this phenomenon is the Chengdu-based hip hop group Higher Brothers’ 2017 song “Made in China,” which inspired legions of followers and fans. In the same year, “The Rap of China,” a Chinese reality show devoted to discovering local hip hop talent, achieved huge commercial success, with each episode reaching more than 200 million viewers. But at the beginning of 2018, the Chinese government suddenly banned hip hop, citing the promotion of “low moral values,” vulgarity, poor taste, and drugs. (Li wrote about the decree, a controversial blackface skit on Chinese state television, and the country’s soft-power project in Frieze last year.)

Beijing's ban was alarming, yet “The Rap of China” made a triumphant return last summer. What brought back the show and the hip hop scene, and what can we make of the nation's fandom? Li will look to the origins of Chinese-language rap at the end of the 1980s, among a group of musicians in the diaspora, working in the music industries of Hong Kong and Taiwan. He'll speak about the rise of Mandarin and Sichuan-dialect rap to the top of the charts in relation to shifts in political power and the consumption and production of culture in China.

The Rap of China is part of Omniaudience, a series that considers the role of listening, the settings in which speech and sound can have a meaningful effect. Omniaudience is being published in Two Ears and One Mouth, a forthcoming issue that examines how we speak and listen and who has the right and capacity to be heard.

Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. In order to ensure that events are accessible and comfortable, we’ll open the doors thirty minutes prior to each event and strictly limit admittance to our legal capacity. Please check Triple Canopy’s Facebook and Twitter accounts for updates, as we’ll indicate if events are sold out.

Triple Canopy’s venue is located at 264 Canal Street, 3W, near several Canal Street subway stations. Our floor is accessible by elevator (63" × 60" car, 31" door) and stairway. Due to the age and other characteristics of the building, our bathrooms are not ADA-accessible, though several such bathrooms are located nearby. If you have specific questions about access, please write at least three days before the event and we will make every effort to accommodate you.

  • Alvin Li is a writer and contributing editor of Frieze. He is based in Shanghai, China. His writing on contemporary art and culture has appeared in Frieze, Artforum, Mousse, and Art-Agenda, among others. Li is the cofounder of CINEMQ, an unrefined, Shanghai-based queer collective known for hopping around clubs to screen curated content from around the world, with a focus on Chinese and East Asian independent queer film productions. CINEMQ also publishes weekly articles and organizes parties.