from: The Sydney Morning Herald
August 20, 2002

China's 'Woodstock' overcomes rain and altitude

The founding father of Chinese rock music Cui Jian provided a rousing finale to "China's Woodstock" in the early hours of Monday, as the country's first-ever outdoor music festival confounded initial fears by proving a success.

As Cui belted out some of his most politically-charged songs before an audience including local Communist Party officials, the Snow Mountain Music Festival was hailed by organisers, fans and local press alike as a triumph.

The event, held in a scenic corner of the southwestern province of Yunnan, prospered despite a series of difficulties.

Some, like torrential downpours which drenched the crowd on Saturday, would be familiar to music festival-goers around the world.

Others were more specific, not least the logistical challenge of transporting thousands of fans half way up the isolated 5,596 metre Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the scenic venue for the self-styled "world's highest" music festival.

Most significant was the fact the festival took place at all, underlining how rock music's outlaw status in China - as exemplified by Cui Jian's many years of run-ins with authorities - could be gradually coming to an end.

"The festival was a big success, we had a lot of problems, but you still have to say it was a success," said Li Hui, whose company co-organised the event with the local Lijiang city government.

"From the experience we gained from this, there is no doubt that the next one will be better."

Up to 10,000 fans turned up, although many left early as periodic rain storms, cold weather and the high altitude tested concert goers' endurance, organisers said.

Lijiang, home to the Naxi ethnic minority. is tucked up against the Tibetan plateau in a traditionally impoverished and earthquake-prone area blessed with some of the world's most spectacular scenery.

The festival boasted some of China's top pop stars, including Sun Nan, Luo Zhongxu, Dou Wei and Zhu Zheqin, while also billing some of the nation's growing army of heavy metal, hip-hop and punk bands like Brain Failure, Wild Children and Confucious Says.

Cui Jian, 41, known as the man who first brought Western-style rock to the masses in China, has pursued his career despite being periodically banned from performing, producing records and getting radio and television airplay.

His work in helping to organise the Snow Mountain Festival marks a new stage in his efforts to bring rock and roll into the Chinese music mainstream.

Nonetheless, wearing a regal blue robe and his trademark white baseball hat, Cui found time to lambast the music shown on state-owned Chinese Central Television (CCTV) before an audience including Lijiang commissioner He Duanqi.

"About 80 percent of what you see on CCTV is faked (lip-synched) and 100 percent of the Spring Festival Eve Special is faked," he said, referring to the country's most popular entertainment program, aired nationwide by CCTV on the eve of the Chinese New Year.

Cui's campaign to end "fake singing" even appears to be drawing media backing.

"From an ethical point of view, everyone should wholeheartedly support the end to unhealthy practices in order to bring happiness to the viewing public," the Dushi Times in Yunnan's provincial capital of Kunming said over the weekend.

"Lao Cui (Cui Jian) ... has always stood for the beauty in the truth," the paper said.