Sun, Jan 24, 2010 - Page 14 News List

Hardcover: US: Taiwan’s secret weapon

When it comes to music, Taiwan punches far above its weight. So much so, argues Marc Moskowitz, that it is reshaping the PRC’s culture

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

There is much else in this fascinating book. The focus is everywhere on Taiwan (Moskowitz interviewed 18 people in Shanghai, but 65 in Taipei). Taiwanese KTV, the implications of the decline of CD sales following the arrival of downloading to MP3-players, the reputation of Taiwanese Aboriginals for an explicit sexual allure, a fan base that’s built up from live performances leading

to recording contracts, rather than companies recording a relative unknown and then promoting their product — all these are discussed.

There are many photos of Taiwanese singers, too, several of them (including a dramatic one of Elva Hsiao (蕭亞軒) promoting the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs (無間道) on the book’s front cover) credited to the Taipei Times.

Many prominent figures from the music business feature — Chang Chen-yue (張震嶽), Jolin Tsai (蔡依林), Wu Bai (伍佰), Jay Chou (周杰倫), David Tao (陶吉吉), Bobby Chen (陳昇), Singapore’s Stefanie Sun (孫燕姿), who made her career in Taiwan, and Taipei music producer George Trivino, among others.

Moskowitz allows his opponents to have their say, notably those — including some in Taiwan — who consider Mando-pop beneath their consideration. He quotes former Taipei Times reporter David Momphard, writing in 2003 (“Taiwan, where pop music is largely a pantheon of pretty faces”) and considers the accusation that Mando-pop singers rarely write their own songs, concluding that there’s no reason why such a system should necessarily be inferior to that prevailing in the West. Western singers rarely produce their own music videos, after all.

Moskowitz concludes as follows. “Mando-pop has dramatically reshaped PRC culture to make it look, act and sound more like Taiwan. It has ushered in a wealth of cultural values ... It has introduced transnational and global values in spite of the government’s best efforts to prevent this and it has provided a model to prioritize the individual in opposition to state and Confucian ideals.”

These may seem large claims to make for what the author accepts is “seemingly benign music.” Even so, Moskowitz at the very least makes the case

that there is a case to be made. As such, and despite its

comparative brevity, Cries of Joy, Songs of Sorrow is a notable and welcome publication.

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