Widely considered the preeminent figure in Chinese rock music, Cui Jian holds lofty titles such as "godfather of Chinese rock & roll" and "pioneer of modern Chinese rock." A precursor in the mid-1980s of the late-booming Chinese rock scene, Cui has a straightforward yet eclectic style of music and persona combining Western influences of rock, folk music and jazz, punchy lyrics and a free and rebellious spirit, with a set of local cultural elements including northwestern Chinese folk music, traditional instruments (the suona horn, the guzheng or zither, etc.), the Communist military uniform, lingua francas and the Young Pioneers' red scarf, along with that striking bewilderment shared under a society awakening and opening up immediately after a long ideological turmoil, closely accompanied by burgeoning commercialization and highly regulated state control.
Hit songs released from the 1980s including "Nothing to My Name," "A Piece of Red Cloth," "Greenhouse Girl," "Fake Monk" and "Rock 'n' Roll on the New Long March" powerfully conveyed an impulse to "leave home" that poetically coincided with post-traumatic detachment from an overpowering nation-state and the craving for expanding views of the world under the new open-door policy. The refusal to accept conformity and blindness, and the eclecticism in his songs largely inherited from Western punk-rock culture and the universal teen spirit, made for a dynamic backing tune to the political and cultural resurrection in China in the 1980s.
Due to his participation in student protests in 1989 in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Cui Jian was allegedly sanctioned and was banned from major venues by the state. As a consequence, he was only able to perform and create music on Beijing's underground scene, furthering the endurance of his persona as a "heroic rebel" and extending his influence to a wider group of musicians and audience through the 1990s.