China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Postwar musical cultures in East Asia emerged at the confluence of empires. While revolutionary states in China and North Korea disengaged themselves from prewar circuits of production and dissemination, constructing radically different systems for the creation and circulation of music, popular music in US client states such as Taiwan and South Korea emerged largely from within what Bruce Cummings has termed the “archipelago of empire”: US military installations maintained across East Asia as part of a strategy of Cold War containment. US military bases and radio broadcasts served as an important medium for the introduction of pop throughout the region.
I examine one crucial substrate for this postwar popular music circuit, pirate records, focusing on Taiwan. Taiwan was notorious as a source of cheap copies of US long-playing records, pressed on colored vinyl with mimeographed sleeves, and marketed to US serviceman in cities such as Taipei and Kaohsiung as well as to local enthusiasts. Military bases functioned as a “semiconductor” in this musical circuit, serving as the decisive gating mechanism through which the currents of Anglo-American music became widely audible. As pirate records were smuggled into local contexts, they enabled new ways of feeling and being, embodied by an efflorescence of a late 1960s youth culture centered around Anglophone “hit music." The business of piracy also unwittingly subsidized the rise of an altogether different structure of feeling: the rediscovery of local folk music and its entry into mass mediated circuits in service of an anti-colonial agenda in the 1970s.