Within globalized hip hop culture as a whole, Chinese hip hop is a relative newcomer. Beginning in late 90s Hong Kong, this network of cultural forms—rapping, DJing, breakdancing, graffiti, fashion, and explicit language—spread to mainland China by 2004. Some elements met immediate approval from the government, while others circumvented state censorship via black market channels. Heavy borrowings from 90s-era gangsta rap were increasingly mediated by traditional and contemporary Chinese musical influences, creating an indigenized Chinese hip hop culture.
People across the nation soon adopted Chinese hip hop culture as a characteristic mode of youthful artistic expression. This was so for not just majority Han, but also ethnic minorities, particularly Mongols, whose artistic cultural expressions are intricately woven into a millennium’s worth of macro-political history. For Mongolian youth in China, hip hop has become a dangerous but exciting and critically important project: combining subversive expression and brazenly-voiced political grievances in an emphatic assertion of Mongolian identity. The stakes are high in a nation notorious for its heavy-handed treatment of political dissent, especially in the arts and as voiced by ethnic minorities.
Drawn from past and current ethnographic research in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, this paper examines Mongolian hip hop culture in China and how Mongols navigate the multivalent political intricacies of Chinese governmental policies towards ethnic minorities and political speech. As Mongolian hip hop artists encounter Chinese state censorship—and struggle with internalized self-censorship—they give us new insight into the overarching relationship between Mongolian identity and the Chinese state.