Hearing the Future: Twenty Years of Listening to Popular Music in Taiwan
A talk by NANCY GUY (UC San Diego), in the series New Directions in Taiwan Studies
Music's power to both monitor and propel political change has been noted by philosophers and governmental institutions since ancient times. In this talk, Professor Nancy Guy shows that over the last two decades popular music in Taiwan has indeed acted as a barometer of political change.
Taiwan's increasingly free post-martial law political environment allowed for the expression of sentiments long banished from public discourse in idioms long pushed to the cultural fringes. The vision of a Taiwan dominated by local culture, forms of expression, and political leadership came into clearer and clearer focus in the music of the late 1980s and 1990s. Professor Guy asserts that these innovative musical creations heralded the regime change of May 2000. Seeds foretelling the troubles that Chen Shui-bian's administration would face over the next eight years sprouted his very first day in office when China banned pop diva A-Mei immediately following her singing of the national anthem for Chen's inaugural ceremony.
Fearing China's retribution (i.e., loss of access to the mainland market), many pop artists distanced themselves from President Chen. Through their actions and their music, performers indicated with crystal clarity that the "machine of power" to which they were bound lies across the Straits in China. Hence, music signaled well in advance of the 2008 presidential election the future strengthening of ties to China and the accompanying diminution of Taiwan's sovereignty.
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Nancy Guy is an associate professor of music at the University of California, San Diego. As an ethnomusicologist, she has published on traditional Han, Taiwan aboriginal, and contemporary popular musics. The questions most prominent in her scholarly work involve issues of identity formation, indigenous cultural rights, and the meaning and uses of expressive culture in electoral politics. Her book Peking Opera and Politics in Taiwan (University of Illinois Press, 2005) won the ASCAP Béla Bartók Award for Excellence in Ethnomusicology and it was also named an "Outstanding Academic Title for 2006" by Choice, the review magazine of the Association for College and Research Libraries.
Published: Tuesday, May 05, 2009