Live at the Forbidden City

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(from the book cover)

Live at the Forbidden City offers a singular look at the rapidly evolving Chinese popular music scene, as seen through the eyes of one of the first progressive Western musicians to perform extensively in both China and Taiwan.

In the 1980s and 90s, American author and musician Dennis Rea was an unofficial musical ambassador to the East, playing concerts in venues ranging from sports arenas to illicit underground nightclubs to TV broadcasts viewed by millions of Chinese - frequently under bizarre circumstances and the constant threat of harassment by Communist Party authorities. Spiced with informative reflections on Chinese music and culture, Live at the Forbidden City interweaves vivid, often comical depictions of Rea's musical adventures with an insider's look at China's emergent rock music phenomenon, richly descriptive tales of travels in China's ethnic minority regions, and an eyewitness account of the violent civil uprising that broke out in the city of Chengdu at the same time as the world-shaking events at Tiananmen Square.

Dennis Rea has performed with many leading international figures in modern jazz, adventurous rock, and experimental music. He has acted as co-director of the annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival and as co-editor of the Tentacle creative music journal.

General information

Author Dennis Rea
English title Live at the Forbidden City - Musical Encounters in China & Taiwan
Publisher iUniverse
Date of publication 2006 exactly on 2006/05/18
ISBN 0-595-39048-X (find this book)
Number of Pages 185

Subject of the Book

This book focusses mostly about the following subjects:

Cui Jian, Jazz, Rock

General information

Author: Dennis Rea

Publishing house: iUniverse


With a total of 185 pages the book "Live at the Forbidden City" is promising a brief, yet intense contact with the underground rock scene of the 80s and 90s in China. It is keeping the promise, maybe not in the full possible intense, but with a good sense of narratorship by Dennis Rea. Giving account to his travels, studies and teaching in China (Chengdu and Taiwan), he is introducing us to the as-is situation, giving us a first step into the mentality and cultural behaviours that form the China of his time.

In a second step he opens the varient world of Chinese faces and minorities, giving account to the directions that traditional music has taken. After about 40 pages though the direction of the book is changing and turning to modern rock music after having introduced the reader to both the as-is situation and the cultural diversity.

Quick and dirty, hard and fast, Dennis Rea is noting the experiences he made during his sole concerts in Chengdu, his tour with "Identity Crisis", his tour with "The Vagaries" and his "Land" tour. He thereby concentrates on the facts and gives brief (and correct) explanations to the relationships and importance of single players and figures in the music scene. E.g. his relationship to Tang Lei and her involvement in the Chengdu music scene. Or his friends in Taiwan's jazz circles.

As he got in contact with Cui Jian the further annotation about the Chinese music scene circles around him, as Dennis Rea interwove his own tours with those of Cui Jian (sometimes by chance). Dennis Rea gives his own thoughts and explanations to certain scenes and situations and leads the reader through a country of misunderstanding, troublesome concerts and euphoric audiences.

In short: Live at the Forbidden City is a good beginners book for those so far not involved in Chinese music, an interesting musicians autobiography (for a specific part of time, 80s to 90s) with a focus on China. If you never have had any contact with Chinese modern music and how it developed be prepared to read a well-written book that empowers you with the basics (and more) without turning into a scientic encyclopedia.

For students involved in China studies it gives a new point of view by a foreign musician into the music scene of China and of Chengdu, mixed with new facts and stories about Cui Jian and other musicians. A delightful music tour book packed with interesting experiences by jazz musician Dennis Rea. Definitely a must-read.

by Azchael

Article readings

Specific details

Dennis Rea displays the music scene of Chengdu at the end of the 80s with interesting details about the main three music circles and their leading musicians.

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