China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper explores how PRC-produced gramophone records were distributed and circulated in Cold War Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. It studies the Art-Tune Records Company, a Hong Kong-based commercial corporation and a shadow agent of the Central Broadcasting Agency in China, which promoted Chinese music to overseas Chinese audiences. Against the restrictions of British Hong Kong’s political censorship and US-imposed sanctions on PRC from trading its cultural productions in Asian markets, Art-Tune sought to remaster and reproduce the recordings of the China Record Corporation in Shanghai for sale in Hong Kong, Macau, Southeast Asia and other overseas markets.Hong Kong served as the media center of new Chinese music production and distribution, a bridge to PRC’s transnational network. Art-Tune deployed diverse tactics and commercial foils to deliver gramophone music with multi-lingual versions to nurture a sense of cultural belonging for overseas Chinese audiences in respective regional societies. The acoustic musical sphere fostered listeners’ emotional sympathy with cultural China in their soul-searching for the “roots.” The commercially successful migration of gramophone music across Hong Kong and Southeast Asia contributed to dynamic intermedia performance and cultural expressions with the reformulation of regional folk music in cinema, particularly in Hong Kong-produced opera films and martial arts movies. Diverse regional receptions led to local appropriations when Southeast Asian artists tampered with the Chinese lyrics for political use. The paper discusses how gramophone music was turned from a propaganda medium to Chinese symbols that appealed to disparate diaspora Chinese across ethnic and political divides.