1989-2019: “You will be the generation to suffer the consequences of these changes.”

By Maeva Chargros

The story is known – some would even say simple: on November 17, 1989, a large demonstration in Prague triggered the Velvet Revolution, that would peacefully end four decades of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia; Václav Havel would be the President of the new federal Republic, which would split between the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993. Then, both countries would join NATO and the European Union, keeping close diplomatic ties. Czechia would constantly be confused with Chechnya, and Slovak diplomats in Brussels would have to organise regular mail-swapping meetings with their Slovenian counterparts. Meanwhile, everyone would keep talking about Czechoslovakia as if these two countries only made sense when together.

Nonetheless, if you sit down and listen to Czechs and Slovaks, you realise the story is not that simple: for them, the Velvet Revolution cannot be reduced to just one demonstration, one election, and one painful breakup.

Therefore, instead of a banal memo about various events organised around the Czech Republic to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this major historical milestone, here is an attempt to help international readers to see the events from a Czech, or actually Czechoslovak perspective, through the eyes of people who actually saw the events as they happened – on TV, in the newspapers, or on the main square of their city or village. I interviewed three historians, who were in very different locations in November 1989. They were between 7 and 19 years old, thus each gives a very different perspective on the events that unfolded thirty years ago. All of them are now part of the Euroculture team at the Department of History of Palacký University in Olomouc. You will find more information about them at the end of this article; their age at the time of the Velvet Revolution is given next to their names in the article. Continue reading “1989-2019: “You will be the generation to suffer the consequences of these changes.””

HK Protest – Not Only about An Extradition Bill

Bruce Lee once shared his philosophy with others: “Be formless, be shapeless, like water. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.”  This Hong Kong-American actor would not expect that 47 years after his death his philosophy of life would be adopted by protesters in Hong Kong against their own government.

After a tear gas grenade been hurled towards the protesting crowds, two masked protesters quickly covered the smoking grenade with a traffic corn and poured the bottled water through the hole on top of it to put out the smoke, as if they had been trained to deal with tear shell for a long time. In the meantime, other gathered protesters started drawing back with opening umbrellas in their hands pointing at the police force in case of more tear bombs. They moved together towards the next neighbouring street. This scene has been happening everywhere in Hong Kong for more than five months already. 

The protest that involved more than millions of people in Hong Kong has become the largest uprising so far against local government and Beijing authorities in the back. Unlike the last big scale protest broke out in 2014, so called the Umbrella Revolution, where people occupied all central areas of the city and refused to leave, this time Hongkongers learned their lessons and became more flexible. They haunted in every corner of the city and once they met the police they strategically pulled out and moved to another “battleground”, formless and shapeless, “like water”, as Bruce Lee said.

The starting point of this protest on an unprecedented scale is an Amendment. Three months ago the HK government tried to push ahead with an Amendment of the existing extradition law titled Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, in which it was regulated that in the future the fugitives arrested in Hong Kong can be extradited to Macau, Taiwan, and most controversially, Mainland China.

On June 9th, around one million people occupied the street with signs written NO CHINA EXTRADITION in their hands. However, in the following days as the police started shooting tear gas bombs and rubber bullets towards gathered crowds, the peaceful protests escalated to a series of riots quickly. Soon, the situation further deteriorated while the protesters blocked the HK airport and a mainland China journalist was beaten up by angry protesters. The relative video went viral on Chinese social media Weibo and stirred up the anger from Chinese side and resulted in a huge and still on-going online flame war between HK and mainland China people.

However, although the protestors’ emotional and violent actions at the airport and their decision to block the whole airport, which led to thousands of passengers stranded at the airport, are debatable, it is inappropriate simply defining this pro-democracy protest as a sinister interference by Western Powers that tried to “subvert China’s political system” nor defining the protesters as “rioters” or even “terrorists”, as stated by Chinese official media report.

HK problem is a long-rooted problem. The Amendment for extradition bill just lit the fuse. Since Hong Kong was handed over from Britain in 1997, the dissatisfaction of HK citizens toward HK government has raised a lot. 

According to a public opinion poll conducted by Hong Kong University, in 2019 only 10.8% of Hong Kong citizens identified themselves as “Chinese” and more than 50% chose “Hongkonger”. One of the reasons behind is the decreasing credibility of the government. Taking the Amendment as example, the protesters’ biggest concern is that after the Amendment get approved, Hong Kong citizens and foreigners passing through the city can be arrested and sent to mainland China for trials due to political reasons. But actually, HK government specifically underlined that human rights will still be guaranteed that no suspect of political offences will be covered under the bill. 

However, it is clear that citizens do not trust their government anymore, which is reasonable considering Wing-Kee Lam’s experience. In 2005, Wing-Kee Lam, a Hong Kong bookseller who sold books critical for China, was arrested in Hong Kong and detained in China later for “operating a bookstore illegally”. Currently Lam has fled to Taiwan in fear of the approval of the Amendment.

Also, during the past two months, HK government’s double standard and inaction only raised more substantial doubts on itself. On 21st July, more than 20 men in white shirts showed up in Yuen Long area and attacked all black-dressed (the protesters’ united dressing color) passersby indiscriminately, including old people and pregnant women. According to witnesses, the emergency call that could not get connected for a long time and the local police station was closed. Some even stated that they saw the police, who witnessed the bloody and violent attacks of white-shirt men, just turned around and left. Until today, 28 arrested white men have all been bailed and only two of them were prosecuted. Compared to the police’s quick reaction to the protesters, their actions that night made the citizens start questioning whether the police received orders from the government and whether the government is taking double standard against pro-China and pro-Hong Kong demonstrators.

On the other hand, the protests have been lasting for more than five months but HK government neither took any concrete actions nor answered any demands of citizens. It keeps condemning protesters’ violence but ignored the truth that HK police took unnecessary and inhumane actions against the demonstrators such as shooting with bean bag round at a very close distance, which violated the term of use and had led to a girl’s blindness. For now, HK government’s strategy is obviously taking no actions and this was what they have done five years ago during the Umbrella Revolution, which ended under the pressure of growing discontent citizens who had been tired of month-long protest. However, this time, there’s no tendency yet that the on-going protest will be ceasing in the near future.

When Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997, it was promised that for the next 50 years Hong Kong’s civic freedom and “a high degree of autonomy” would be guaranteed. These 50 years are supposed to be a transition time for Hong Kong to entirely return to China. However, there seems to have been signs that China’s “one country, two systems” policy is failing and the gap between mainland China and Hong Kong is actually expanding. The protest started from an extradition bill but is not only about it. It is a concentrated outbreak of long-rooted and deep-rooted problems. What will happen next? What will happen after the 50 years limit finish? There’s still no answer for it.



“Hong Kong-China Extradition Plans Explained.” BBC News. BBC, August 22, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-47810723

Kirby, Jen. “As Hong Kong Protests Continue, Mob Violence against Demonstrators Casts a Shadow.” Vox. Vox, July 22, 2019. https://www.vox.com/2019/7/22/20704239/hong-kong-protests-mov-yuen-long-beijing

Liu, Nicolle. “What Is Hong Kong’s Extradition Bill?” Financial Times. Financial Times, June 11, 2019. https://www.ft.com/content/2063019c-7619-11e9-be7d-6d846537acab

McBride, Terry Lee. “Bruce Lee Be As Water My Friend.” YouTube. YouTube, August 14, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJMwBwFj5nQ

O’Connor, Tom. “China State Media Says the West Will Never Get Hong Kong Back as Protesters Attack Journalist.” Newsweek, August 13, 2019. https://www.newsweek.com/china-media-hong-kong-attack-1454130

University (the) of Hong Kong, “Table.” Table – HKUPOP. Accessed August 13, 2019. https://www.hkupop.hku.hk/english/popexpress/ethnic/eidentity/halfyr/datatables.html

Gangnam Style – Decoding Transculturalism in Pop Music

In this article, I wish to demonstrate a comprehensive overview of how “Gangnam Style” reflects certain phenomena of Transculturalism. One thing I find most intriguing in music is precisely the ‘invisibility’ which gives immense space of imagination. I do agree that with visual aids, certain messages can be notably transported to an individual audience, but it may also undermine the musicality.

© Marcus Yeung
© Marcus Yeung

Wong Tsz│wongtsz@gmail.com

The YouTube 2012 super-hit “Gangnam Style” brings new perspectives of how transculturalism can be interpreted in the context of the modern pop music industry. To understand transculturalism in music, one must first differentiate different models of musical exchange. Ethnomusicologist Krister Malm summarised musical exchange into four categories, which musicians could be directly engaged with[1]:

1. Cultural exchange: a phenomenon which allows newly emerging musical expressions during the process. This often occurs on a person-to-person level.

2. Cultural dominance: the process when a powerful society or group within a society imposes its values on another in a formally organised fashion.

3. Cultural imperialism: occurs as cultural dominance, often increased by the transfer of money and resources from the dominated to the dominating cultural group.

4. Transculturalism in music: a result of the growing transnational corporations and global marketing network in music industry. Transculturalism involves the merging of different elements from different kinds of music taking place in an industrial environment. Transcultural music is therefore an industrial product without roots in any specific ethnic group.

“Gangnam Style”, along with other pop music videos (MVs) available online, gives a valuable overview of the current development of the pop music industry in a transcultural context. What can we tell from “Gangnam Style” in the scope of Transculturalism in music? I note a few aspects which may serve as analytical perspectives:

1. Music for free. The conventional revenue of the music industry relies on music sales; the listening or viewing of MVs online at no cost, especially on YouTube, has proven that the phenomenon of sharing music through a mature social media worldwide has changed the shape of the music industry, where the music industry may eventually profit from the bottom-up popularity spread by individual internet users. (Further reading: Christopher Cayari, “The YouTube Effect: How YouTube Has Provided New Ways to Consume, Create, and Share Music”[2].)

2. Beyond Lyrics. With visual context, more than singing along, the audience may also ‘dance along’; the ‘horse dance’ for instance proves this by the immense quantity of “Gangnam Style” replicas on YouTube produced by individuals. The ‘horse dance’ may immediately correlate viewers into the context of “Gangnam Style”. Although dancing along with music in an unified gesture is not new in the history of pop music, (one obvious example would be the Village People’s “YMCA”)[3], the main difference I note here is that the ‘horse dance’ has no direct connotation to the lyrics but, on the contrary, it associates with other visual contents in the music video. One may find Roland Barthes’s Semiology theory useful in decoding the meanings of signs; ‘horse dance’ could be taken as once example. At the beginning of the MV (at 0:18), PSY walks into a stable full of horses and start waving his wrists in crossed arms, making a direct connotation to horse riding. (Further reading: Paulo Emanuel Novais Guimarães, “What did Barthes mean by ‘semiotics’? How useful is his account for social theory and for accounts of ideology?”[4].)

3. Three-minute music. The common ABA or ABACA[5] format of popular music can be well-observed in “Gangnam Style”. The 3:39 duration coincides with the common length of pop songs, or so called three-minute music. I note that the attention span of the audience is no longer limited to an audio media, but to a visual one as well. Academic research on the same issue has indicated the cause and effect relationship between the popularisation of pop music and its influence on teenagers’ attention spans, which is also around three minutes long[6].

4. Overcoming the language gap. “Gangnam Style” is composed mostly of Korean lyrics, with very little use of English. The role of the lyrics in the song is thus less prominent to the non-Korean audience yet, on the visual level, the body language (dance), together with the easy to remember melody, compensates the language gap. Similar examples of such a module, especially among non-English language pop songs which gained huge popularity worldwide, are:

  • “The Ketchup Song” (“Aserejé” in Spanish)[7], 3:29, ABA form, also with similar hand movements and key phrase “Aserejé, ja deje tejebe tude jebere…”
  •  “Dschinghis Khan”[8], 3:30, ABA form, similar hand movements (a different horse dance), and key phrases “Hu! Ha! Hu! Ha…” and “Dsching… Dsching… Dschinghis Khan! He, Reiter; ho, Leute; he, Reiter, immer weiter…”
  • “Macarena”[9], 3:50, ABA form, a repetitive set of body movements which coincides with the key phrase “Heeeeey Macarena!”

I identify here three key elements among the given examples which gained success worldwide: 1) easy to remember lyrics (key phrase) and melody, 2) simple and memorisable body language, 3) dance melody.

5. Gangnam Styles. Gangnam Style was quickly reinterpreted in many different languages and derivative works: from lip-dup to various translations and adaptations of the lyrics. Most videos are produced by ordinary internet users, although the quality of such videos varies, it is one noticeable trend that by re-creating and instantly sharing such derivative works, pop music videos no longer serve as a one-way communication channel in the context of social media: the involvement and reaction of audiences to certain MVs may give new perspectives of understanding the reception of pop culture in a wider scope. A pop song which gained success in one market could therefore be quickly transformed and gain success in others. German pop song “Dschinghis Khan”, for example, was translated into 10 different languages in Europe and Asia and gained worldwide success; which is more feasible when the copyright of a work is controlled by a big record company. (Further reading: Gill, Phillipa, Arlitt, Martin; Li, Zongpeng; Mahanti, Anirban, “YouTube Traffic Characterization: A View From the Edge”[10].)

6. Music as a product vs. The star as a product. When an artist (or the music industry) finds more profit and opportunities in commercial settings, one may also argue that the artist (the star) is also a commercial product or, at least, a representation of certain products/brands (such as Madonna’s Pepsi commercial in 1989[11]). This phenomenon is not entirely new in the pop music industry: long since Elvis Presley, record companies find it extremely profitable to cast singers in films, usually low-budget productions, and embed their music into the film[12]. How such representation could eventually effect music production itself is another topic worth exploring.

When we talk about transculturalism in music, it is always tempting for composers, musicians, and music producers to look for new elements in other cultures. The presence of transculturalism is particularly noticeable in visual media; when MVs are mostly available in pop music nowadays, the effect of transculturalism is more understandable than in music without visual elements. How and why certain visual images were adopted in the “Gangnam Style” MV is, however, a different issue; for example, why the ‘horse dance’? It might be something to do with the horse racing culture in the Gangnam area, one of the richest districts of Seoul where people can afford such an extravagant hobby, but it is highly doubtful how far such an embedded meaning could be decoded by an audience without any background knowledge of the particular culture. Perhaps this brings a call of more awareness of indigenous culture in music, especially in the dimension of social media.

Despite the limited textual and musical analysis in this article, as I mainly focused on Transculturalism, I wish to demonstrate a comprehensive overview of how “Gangnam Style” reflects certain phenomena. One thing I find most intriguing in music is precisely the ‘invisibility’ which gives immense space of imagination. I do agree that with visual aids, certain messages can be notably transported to an individual audience, but it may also undermine the musicality. From “Gangnam Style”, I find a lot of similarity when I compare it to some earlier examples of MVs. If one believes that music is the common language of mankind, in modern times where music is getting more and more ‘visual’ and less merely ‘audio’, more reproducible and sharable, I ask: are we closer to ‘music as a common language’, or is it actually ‘music videos as a common language’?

[1] Krister Malm, “Music on the Move: Traditions and Mass Media,” Ethnomusicology 37,3 (1993): 340-343.

[2]  Christopher Cayari, “The YouTube Effect: How YouTube Has Provided New Ways to Consume, Create, and Share Music”, International Journal of Education & the Arts, Volume 12 Number 6 (2011). http://www.ijea.org/v12n6/v12n6.pdf.

[3]  “Village People Set “YMCA” World Record at the Sun Bowl,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAYHQWz3i7I.

[4]  Paulo Emanuel Novais Guimarães, “What did Barthes mean by ‘semiotics’? How useful is his account for social theory and for accounts of ideology?”, IDEATE: the Undergraduate Journal of Sociology, University of Essex 8 (2012): 1-7, available online: http://www.essex.ac.uk/sociology/documents/pdf/ug_journal/vol8/2012sc301_pauloguimar%C3%A3es.pdf.

[5] On different forms of music please refer to “Music Theory Blog”, available online: http://musictheoryblog.blogspot.de/2007/02/musical-form.html.

[6] Michael Z. Newman investigated the attention span of pop songs on teenagers in “New media, young audiences and discourses of attention: from Sesame Street to ‘snack culture'”, Media Culture Society  32 (2010): 581,  available online: http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/32/4/581.

[7] “Ketchup song original and full,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5D5N8TgBFw.

[8]  “Eurovision 1979 Germany Dschinghis Khan Dschinghis Khan HQ SUBTITLED,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAEUrp2V4ss.

[9]  “Los Del Mar – Macarena (Live 40°),” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41DyPamC1_M.

[10]  Gill, Phillipa, Arlitt, Martin; Li, Zongpeng; Mahanti, Anirban, “YouTube Traffic Characterization: A View From the Edge”, Technical Reports, HP Labs, HPL-2007-119 (2007), available online: http://www.hpl.hp.com/techreports/2007/HPL-2007-119.pdf.

[11]  “MADONNA – LIKE A PRAYER PEPSI COMMERCIAL,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8qtsUaoVak.

[12]  Elvis Presley made 31 movies between 1956 to 1969, other notable singers in movie includes: The Beatles – ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964), David Bowie – ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (1976), Madonna – ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ (1985), Deborah Harry – ‘Hairspray’ (1988), Whitney Houston – ‘Bodyguard’ (1992). All these films featured singers’ song(s), and eventually boosted the sale of records.

Wong Tsz new profile Wong Tsz, Contributing Writer

Wong Tsz, from Hong Kong, moved to Europe for MA Euroculture (2010-12) after obtaining his BA in Language and Translation. Currently, he’s a PhD student in Musicology under DFG Research Group ‘Expert Cultures from the 12th to the 16th Century’. Wong Tsz played in various orchestras in Hong Kong and in Europe, including the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, Open University of Hong Kong Orchestra, Göttingen University Orchestra, Groningen Students’ Orchestra MIRA, and currently in Academic Orchestra Göttingen AOV. He’s not only keen on playing music but is actively engaged in academic research. His Master’s thesis gives an in-depth study of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under the scope of Orientalism theory by Edward Said. His current PhD project ‘Matteo Ricci in East West Music Exchange’ gives a detailed analysis to trace the early models of music exchange between China and Europe in 16th century.

Mr. Help – Being an Asian girl in Europe

Dear Mr. Help,

We are girls from South Korea, Mainland China and Hong Kong. We’ve encountered several problems while living in Europe as students of MA Euroculture and need your help.

1. Just call my name, correctlySouth Korea (Eunjin Jeong, Euroculture 2011-13)

Mr Help Eunjin
If only I could be called correctly…

Hello, Mr. Help. My name is Eunjin. I have a problem with people not knowing how to say my name correctly. I’ve tried many things and even told them to call me “Engine”. But how long do I have to be the compartment of a car? I do not want to use an English name like some do because I want to keep my Korean identity intact. It was okay until I went to Sweden for my third semester of MA Euroculture. Then, disaster began. They started to call me “Eunyin” and, very painfully, I’ve received several emails with the title “Mr. Jeong”. Should I give up being called correctly in Europe?

2. Could we have a heart to hear talk? – Mainland China (Lili Jiang, Euroculture visiting student from Sichuan University, 2011-12)

Mr.Help Lili 2
If only we could be all cool…

Hello, Mr. Help. My name is Lili. My problem is different – it’s about the social life of my Chinese friends. I have the feeling that most of my Asian friends don’t like hanging out with European students, as they are afraid of the cultural differences. China is no different in this matter. Every time I invite my Chinese friends to a party, they always ask me if there will be other Chinese friends or Asian friends. But, on the other hand, I know that they are also looking forward to making new friends, getting to know different cultures and fitting in to the university. They once told me that their language skills are sufficient for communicating with European friends, but it’s just very hard to advance to heart to heart talks after small talk. I think it’s a big loss for both sides. What could be the solution to really help my Chinese friends to overcome this?

3. It was just noodles!!! – Hong Kong (Au Yeung Shek Ling Hilary, Euroculture 2010-12)

Mr Help Hilary 2
If only I could cook freely…

Hello, Mr. Help. My name is Hilary. I also have a problem. When I tried the WG or flat share culture in Europe, I was nervous at first but enjoyed it very much later: my flat mates taught me how to live in the local way which was great. But nothing is perfect. Well, as a home food lover, yes, I cooked food from Hong Kong for myself and my friends very often. But is it really necessary to give me negative looks when I cook food from my home? I know that European and Asian eating habits are very different but I had eaten lots of European specialties during my stay in Europe: venison, escargot, lapin, etc. If I love European food or not is not important: that I tried them is important. (Actually, I love them, especially escargot!) It really upsets me when my flat mates make disgusted faces and criticise my food without even trying a bite. IT WAS JUST NOODLES!! What can I do about this?

We look forward to hearing from you.

Desperate Eunjin, Lili, and Hilary.

Dear Desperate Eunjin, Lili, and Hilary,

mr helpHi, Eunjin. I really understand your problem. For Europeans it is difficult to pronounce your name correctly. Even if we try, it probably doesn’t sound correct to your ears. I suggest you choose a nickname for your time in Europe. It should be a nickname which fits your personality and feels like it belongs to you. Your problem with being mistaken for a male is quite easy to solve. I would suggest putting an e-mail signature beneath your e-mails in which you call yourself Ms. Jeong.

And Lili, I know exactly what you mean. I often had the same experience when walking around campus, meeting Asians or being in Asia as a European. I think there are several reasons for this. One reason might be that the party habits of Europeans and Asians are quite different. As I noticed, Asian parties generally start earlier and the biggest part is eating. For us Europeans, it starts late and is mostly about drinking, which I think probably makes a lot of your friends quite uncomfortable if they are not used to it. Another reason might be that it takes a lot of courage to overcome the initial shyness of meeting somebody who might not understand everything you say. But I can assure you that it is that way for both sides. A possible solution for you might be to combine the Asian and European way of doing something together. You could organise a culture evening where you first start with an Asian meal and afterwards go out to a party. You should especially tell your friends that most European students would love to talk to an Asian person about a lot more than just superficial small talk. Maybe a good way to get in to a ‘deeper’ conversation is to ask a question about something in European culture that you don’t understand.

Finally, Hilary. I think it is the biggest plus of the WG culture to learn something new about whoever you live with. So maybe your flat mates didn’t understand that part about living together. Of course they don’t have to love everything you cook and, as a person who knows Asian food, I can even understand if they think it looks or smells strange, but I cannot understand why they wouldn’t want to at least try it. You could invite them to a dinner where you cook some Asian food? I know from experience that most Europeans love Kung bao ji ding (Kung Pao Chicken) and Asian noodles, but need somebody to tell them what it is and what kind of taste they should expect.

Mr. Help is from Germany.