Jeffrey sez, “The nice responses to my essay on ‘Hotel California’, has emboldened me to send a follow up on the curious life in China of another American song from the 1970s. Namely, the one that finds John Denver waxing nostalgic about West Virginia.”
This is a particularly apt moment to post something about the Chinese love affair with John Denver’s music, which I alluded to in passing in that same BOOM article, since the romance began exactly 35 years ago. The starting point for it, which paved the way for Denver touring China later, was his performance of “Rocky Mountain High” at a January 29, 1979, gala held in Deng Xiaoping’s honor, during the Chinese leader’s famous trip to America in 1979. (This performance can be seen just over a minute into this documentary, which also includes clips of the Harlem Globetrotters playing ball and an American children’s chorus singing in Chinese at the same event.)
U.S.-Chinese relations have ebbed and flowed since 1979, a year that opening with ties between the two countries being formally “normalized” (setting the stage for Deng’s visit to the U.S.), but the popularity of John Denver and especially his song “Country Roads” across the Pacific has stayed constant.
I’ve been watching this show for several years now, and I saw this guy do this performance. The show is one of the best of the bazillion or so knockoffs of American Idol that fill the airwaves of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China. I watch the show on one of the CCTV channels, a Cantonese one, as I recall.
Anyhoo, that brings up an interesting phenomenon – a lot of American born Chinese in the entertainment biz are taking their talents to Asia, where they are highly in demand. I can’t remember if this guy was one of those or not. I think that one of the reasons that the Chinese like John Denver’s stuff is that their pop music is much more melodic and voice-oriented than ours is. K-Pop is moving away from that a bit, but the mainland still likes a sweet-sounding song – especially an American song they think shows respect for their culture.
China has a huge inferiority complex versus the US, which manifests itself in all the usual ways such things do. But there is still a lot of cross-cultural fusion going on, and that gives me hope for the future relationship between the two nations.