Global Hit – Zhou Yunpeng

The World

The Beijing Olympics are almost here. They start a week from tomorrow. Some people can’t wait for the Games to start. But all the hoopla, increased security and traffic restrictions have left some Beijingers already feeling a bit Olympic’ed-out. A blind Chinese folksinger named Zhou Yunpeng is singing their tune. The World’s Mary Kay Magistad caught up with him in a Beijing bar.

Zhou Yunpeng may not be able to see the people in his audience, but he knows how to hold them – with rich vocals, sharp lyrics, and a sly sense of humor – like in this song, for a packed audience in a Beijing bar.

Zhou YunpengZhou Yunpeng

He says, ‘songs are wanted for the Olympic games, so I wrote one.”

Sounds like “Frere Jacques,” right? It’s also the tune to a Chinese nursery rhyme about tigers. Before singing, Zhou swings back his long black hair and quips, “a prosperous society is a strong tiger; the voice of the tiger reflects the glory of the state.”

The song gets more daring as it goes along – and then his tigers attacks a sacred cow.

He says the Olympics are like a tiger’s back-side, don’t dare touch it! Only he uses a stronger word for back-side. The crowd eats it up.

The next day, I catch up with Zhou in his home, and ask what inspired his Olympics ditty:

“Our government says we shouldn’t make the Olympics political, but the Games do bring a lot of inconvenience to ordinary people here, and I think ordinary people have a right to express their dissatisfaction and their opinions.”

Zhou says he doesn’t buy all this talk about the Olympics being a coming out party, a chance to show the world how far China has come.

“I think it probably doesn’t matter if you want to show yourself to the world or not, because if people’s lives are better and if people have freedom of expression and people have a free life, this would be the best show to the world. The honor of the state is reflected in ordinary people’s lives.”

And it’s ordinary people’s lives that Zhou sings about – the people who struggle, amidst China’s modern glitz – people, he says, like himself.

This song is called “buying a house.” It says, “now I must work hard to pay it off. Even if the sky collapses or the earth sinks, I have to work. Even if the sea dries and the stones rot, I have to work.

It’s been years since Zhou took the train to Beijing — a blind man in a strange city — and started to build a new life. First it was as a street singer for loose change, now, with a strong following among some of the very well-heeled young urbanites his lyrics lampoon.

This one is called “The Golden Congee.” It talks about urban-dwellers looking down on migrant workers, while eating gold and being polite to each other. Some who come to hear Zhou call him daring, others call him flippant, and some say his lyrics fall way short of the mark of some of his musical idols – Bob Dylan, the Doors, John Lennon. But Zhou Yunpeng has something to say, however he’s saying it – and even in Beijing’s final moments before the Olympic curtain goes up – some people want to hear it.

For The World, I’m Mary Kay Magistad in Beijing.

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