He Yong

Once a child actor starring in several films, TV shows and commercials, He Yong was “the first and only punk” in China in the 1980s, by Australian writer Linda Jaivin’s account. Although he performed quite actively in the late 1980s, including his famous performance at Tiananmen Square during the 1989 student protest, it wasn’t until 1994, after He Yong was signed by Rock Records’ sub-label Magic Stone and released his only album, Garbage Dump, that he finally rose to fame and was recognized as the harbinger of Chinese punk. The album presents a mixed style of fierce punk, melodic folk, gaudy dance songs and post-rock, all underlined by a candid and daring overtone that is typically Beijingese. Still, the songs that received high critical acclaim were mostly the punk numbers, including the eponymous hit “Garbage Dump,” in which he notoriously likens society to a garbage dump where people “eat conscience, and shit thoughts.”

The year of the album’s release, He Yong and three other rock acts from the Magic Stone label, Dou Wei, Zhang Chu and Tang Dynasty, staged a legendary concert at the Hong Kong Coliseum, signifying an absolute peak of the Chinese rock scene. In a news report the next day, a Hong Kong paper titled the performance “Chinese Rock ’n’ Roll Rocking Hong Kong.” In 1996, after performing in a national awards ceremony in which he offended one of the award winners, He Yong was lambasted by state media. And from then on, He Yong slowly faded from public awareness, leaving behind that melancholy query from his folk ballad “Zhonggu Tower”: “who has put forward such a difficult question / to which the correct answer is everywhere?”

(Qu Chang)

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