Taiwan phenomenon comes to Puget Sound in lecture

The University will welcome Marc Moskowitz to campus on Oct. 5 to give a lecture about his new book, Cries of Joy, Songs of Sorrow: Chinese Popular Music and its Cultural Connotations. The book discusses the Mandopop phenomenon – pop music sung in Mandarin Chinese – which has profoundly influenced Asian culture for the past 30 years.

Emerging in Taiwan during the 1950s, Mandopop didn’t gain popularity in China until the 1970s when the Chinese communist government relaxed its media censorship restrictions. The genre has since become an outlet for youth to comment on gender roles and popular culture in Asian society.

Today, Mandopop is a huge profit-making industry that contributes extensively to Asian trends in choreography, fashion and aggressive marketing.

Moskowitz is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of South Carolina and has spent more than 10 years living in Chinese-speaking Asia. His research on the intersection between gender, sexuality and popular culture in Asia has been published extensively, both in Asia and the United States, and he is the recipient of the Chiang Ching-Kuo, Fulbright and Fulbright-Hays Awards.

But a career in Asian studies was not always on Moskowitz’s radar. He received his undergraduate degree in English Literature. It was not until he spent some time teaching English in China that Asian culture sparked his interest.

“After [my travels] I was hooked and I went to graduate school to study anthropology, focusing on China and Taiwan,” Moskowitz said.

Awareness of the Mandopop phenomenon came about by accident as well.

“I first started listening to Mandopop in McDonald’s, of all places,” he explained. “I would go there to study Chinese or to work on my dissertation, and after a while I got curious about the songs so I started translating some of the lyrics as a means of studying.”

Moskowitz found the content of the lyrics to be compelling and surprising and he was drawn to continue study of the pop music form.

“Once I started looking at the lyrics I found I was surprised both by the content and how beautiful some of the lyrics were,” said Moskowitz.

Interestingly, instead of investigating Mandopop’s emergence in Taiwan at its source, Moskowitz chose to discuss its cultural implications in China. He noticed that almost all of the English-language scholarship on music in China focused on rock and roll, even though Taiwan-produced Mandopop reaches a much wider audience and is more culturally influential.

“Rock in China is about as popular as jazz is in the United States, so there was a significant misrepresentation in academia that I wanted to correct,” said Moskowitz

His lecture will discuss, among other things, the vocabulary that the music has created to express individualism, and the way it has introduced transnational culture to a country that has been culturally removed from the world for over two decades.

The lecture is sponsored by the History and Asian Studies departments and will take place at 4 p.m. in Wyatt Hall, Rm. 109. Entrance is free and the public is welcome.

For more information and a look at Mandopop music videos and translated lyrics, visit Moskowitz’s website, at: http://people.cas.sc.edu/moskowitz/Lyrics/lyrics.htm.