Hedgehog Overcomes Chinese Censorship

The members of Beijing-based alternative rock band Hedgehog say they just want to make happy music. However, with English lyrics that enthusiastically question authority in a country that liberally blocks major websites and jails dissident journalists, Hedgehog is no wallflower in China’s emerging indie scene.

Adopting the name of the spiny creature was very intentional for the the grunge band. “The hedgehog is a nice little animal, but introverted. It is like us and our music,” said drummer Atom in an interview with French label Social Alienation. “Whether you love us or hate us, we are what we are.”

“Surf With Shark,” a song from the 2012 LP “Sun Fun Gun,” criticizes the restrictions of the East and takes a hit at blind consumerism. On the same album, “Choose Whatever You Want All the Time” condemns the Chinese Ministry of Railway in a time when fraud scandals led the government to disband this state agency. In 2013, a Chinese court gave Railways Minister Liu Zhijun the death sentence for accepting major bribes that heavily compromised public safety in the world’s largest high-speed railway network.

While Hedgehog is enjoying a freedom to rock in a China where Western music isn’t absolutely prohibited anymore, China still keeps tabs on the sound waves running through its citizens’ earbuds.

The culture ministry denies visas to Western artists who are pro-Tibet, such as German electronic artists Kraftwerk. State-run media denounced Elton John’s performance and called it disrespectful because the artist dedicated his concert to activist-artist Ai Weiwei. In 2006, the Rolling Stones played a censored setlist to which Mick Jagger responded: "I'm pleased that the Ministry of Culture is protecting the morals of the expat bankers and their girlfriends that are going to be coming."

Beyond music, China still guards its “Great Firewall” very closely to block a large chunk of content on grounds that the country’s industry and information technology ministry must maintain cyber security. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube are inaccessible during times of controversy, if at all, and specific material, such as photos or search terms, are deleted if they threaten political stability.

In 2014, the country reportedly shut down Gmail, the world’s biggest email service, in advance of the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. Though the government never confirmed a deliberate blocking of the service, an editorial in the government-run Global Times said China welcomes foreign investment but “Google values more its reluctance to be restricted by Chinese law.”

Just as Hedgehog has managed to record and disseminate its six albums, the Chinese public manages to circumvent censorship via VPN tools and people voice their opinions on microblogging sites like Weibo. However, even those resources are tapped occasionally. In 2014, people experienced severe issues connecting to VPN tools that allow them to view blocked websites and apps freely.

With countless programs and entire departments devoted to keeping information from flowing freely, it is difficult for Chinese artists to make a global impact. Efforts such as the Modern Sky Festival in New York are attempting to give U.S. exposure to modern Chinese artists to help boost the prestige of participating bands back in their home country.

Hedgehog’s Atom, understands indie bands from China are a novelty for the Western world. “Most people are stunned and excited by what they have just seen. They can hardly believe that we are Chinese, while China is for them a country of the third world. We just want to show a personal way what we are musically capable, rather than having to justify our Chinese strangeness,” she told Social Alienation.

With influences like Nirvana, Blur, New Order, and Joy Division shining through very clearly in their English-language music, guitarist/singer Zo, bassist Fun, and Atom are likely to connect with a U.S. audience much more easily than they expect.


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