Demerit Beijing Punk
What happens in China when you want to put out an album that questions the government? You get your album censored and edited until everything you wanted to say is an ambiguous lyrical mish-mash that poses no discernible threat to those who wield power.

Not to long ago I wrote about the strange situation that is Iron Man 3, whereas we find ourselves living in a world where The Mandarin of all characters can no longer be Chinese because cultural sensitivity — to an oppressive Communist regime — and a desire to make a few million more bucks dictates Hollywood’s behavior. And Shane Black’s “ultimate terrorist” is an American or British intelligent agent gone rogue. How original.

Given that America has a level of political and economic freedom that has historically been head-and-shoulders above the rest of the world, I find it odd that the “ultimate terrorist” would originate from one of the 50 states. Mr. Black is entitled to his opinion just like anyone else, but it would be refreshing if more directors were like Shaun Jefford, who actually has the courage to show the truth about our Communist “friends” on the other side of the globe.

Beijing Punk is a documentary about freedom. Period. It’s about the human spirit, which yearns to be free. It’s about individuals who are censored and oppressed and constrained by the government, but who inherently know that they are being robbed of the ability to fully pursue their hopes and dreams. Individuals can be poor and uneducated, and yet still make a stirring case for individual liberty because no amount of censorship or state-approved rhetoric can hide ideological shackles. Those who wear them will always scream out in defiance — in this case it’s through punk music.

Jefford’s film centers around a few Chinese punk bands who play at D-22, the CBGB’s on Beijing. Owner Michael Pettis and booking agent Nevin Domer are superb choices to include in the film, and equally articulate spokesmen for the importance of what D-22 is trying to achieve.

First, Pettis on the music.

“I speak to a lot of critics from the U.S. and from Europe who when they came here are always astonished by the freshness of the scene. And there was an English critic who said, ‘You know, in England there is nothing you can do that doesn’t have a huge history behind it. Whatever you do, someone has already done it. What ever you think, someone has thought it, and that becomes a huge weight on top of everything.’ And in China you don’t feel that at all. So you’ll have kids who are discovering Phil Ochs and Stravinsky and Velvet Underground at the same time. And so it’s like opening this enormous toy store to all these kids and rushing and and everything is interesting and everything is exciting.”

China Population Control
Population control — in more ways than one. Now smile for this advertisement like we put a Happy-Happy, Joy-Joy helmet on your head or we’ll make your life a living hell.

Next we have Nevin Domer on Chinese censorship:

Nevin Domer: The General is deciding they don’t like the lyrics [to the new Demerit album] and they’re deciding they don’t want to publish it. Both of these albums should have been printed last week in order to be done for the release show. Tonight was the night that we really needed to go to press. We won’t go into what all of these songs talk about. And Demerit, some of their lyrics are slightly risqué. I’d rather not talk too much about what the lyrics mean on film. The more ambiguous we can be with government officials the safer it is. I guess I just thought we could get away with pushing through whatever we want. We put through ‘Car Sick Cars’ and they have songs about cocaine and mushrooms. That’s all I want to say about that album for now.”

Sound mixer: We have translations quite clear, quite clean. The General has cancelled some words. We still have some problems because of the Olympics. Everything is more controlled.

Nevin Domer: Can we do it today?

Sound mixer: Don’t worry about that.

Nevin Domer: It’s always like this.

Sound mixer: In China, it’s always some surprise.

It turns out that Mr. Domer said a little too much (his home was raided multiple times after Beijing Punk came out). Or maybe simply agreeing to take part in the film is what set the authorities off. Who knows. The point is, he had the audacity to think for himself.

As Lei Jun of the band Mi San Dao explains, free speech isn’t a right that is honored in China:

Lei Jun: You don’t have too much freedom because the government will say, ‘You do this, you don’t do this. Don’t speak this, you speak this.’ Yeah. It’s dangerous to talk. For them you can’t speak punk on the TV. Also you can’t speak skinhead. Also you can’t speak government bad and about the Olympics or too much building. Nothing. You just speak, ‘Oh, we have a good day, every day. We love China. We love the Olympics.’ … It’s different because in China the Chairman say something, all the people need to agree. It’s not like America. He can do what he want. He’s like the animal king. The animals are not like people. For like a monkey? A lot of monkeys, the monkey can do everything.

Shaun Jefford: So you honestly just said the Chairman job is a lot like a monkey king?

Lei Jun: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe…

Lie Jun then provides an interesting anecdote that Hollywood directors like Shane Black could appreciate; China is a lot like a Stanley Kubrick film:

“If you take the hash or weed in your pocket and the police see you, you’re going to the Chinese special name place. It’s like a hospital, but it’s not a hospital. It’s more bad than jail.  … A lot of young men, more students, they drink too much codeine syrup and maybe two died.  So the government they make the new special operation. The doctors from the Army, the put the boy on the bed and after you take off, you take a lot of things from the brain. After you will never drink codeine syrup. They take off your memory about this. Not memory. For example you like drink beer? They take this, after afterwards, you don’t like beer. They can change your hobby. Yeah. I think it’s like a Clockwork Orange, you know? The first time I saw it I said:”It’s a true Clockwork Orange in China!” (Lei Jun).

Let’s assume Lei was misinformed about the “special” jails and the strange operations. Let’s assume he is the victim of a rumor mill on overdrive. Can you blame him? He lives in an oppressive police state. (Sadly, it takes blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng and other fearless individuals to show gullible Americans the truth.)

Perhaps most striking about Beijing Punk is that each band shies away from giving itself any sort of political label, and instead ops to say it is merely on the side of “freedom.” It doesn’t take a college education to know the difference between the invisible hand of free market economics — guiding individuals through countless voluntary and mutually beneficial transactions each day — and the invisible fist of a fear society pounding your psyche and your soul into the ground.

Observe the following exchange between Jefford and Li Yang of Demerit on China’s “one child” policy:

Li Yang: We are not political. Just about freedom.

Shaun Jefford: But freedom is political.

Li Yang: We think in a different place. Just from … [W]e don’t know the deeper meaning of politics …

As I said before, here in America political parties have disappointed us. And when you boil it down, it’s all about freedom vs. tyranny.

Which side are you on? Beijing Punk is clearly on the side of freedom. Check it out if you get the chance.

Chinese Army
There are free societies and there are fear societies. Shaun Jefford’s ‘Beijing Punk’ uses the trials and tribulations of Chinese musicians to artfully expose a fear society.


  1. Excellent in-depth report, bro.

    Same repression that’s happening in Russia where the anti-Putin band Pussy Riot is locked away in some hellhole gulag being ‘re-educated’.

    As a songwriter, I’ve taken my shot at our Beijing pals too. Maybe I should start sleeping o my back with my eyes open.

    Every thing’s been pawned American
    Sent to China in return for crap
    Every thing’s got a lien on it’s back
    Pawned away every day for paper scraps

    Chinese shoes and Chinese sticks
    Chinese shovels and Chinese picks
    Chinese bankers buying gold
    We’re workin’ for them until we’re old

    Made in Datong by little kids
    Busting their humps for nothing pay
    While the workin’ man here can’t shift the gears
    Of the Toyota truck the bank has hauled away

    Idaho spuds stamped made in Quanjou
    Dairy cows mooing with an accented song
    Mr Farmer, don’t linger long
    There’s a collector waiting to walk on you

    Every thing’s been pawned American
    This ain’t no TV show
    When it’s gone to Beijing its gone for good
    People.. it’s time you understood..
    Every thing’s been pawned American
    Pawned American

    c. 2012 Jim Zee All rights reserved.

    1. It’s always interesting to see how totalitarian regimes treat music. They know how powerful it is. The Taliban and its sub-human soul mates do the same thing. Heck, the Taliban even banned kites. How do you reason with that sort of mentality? You can’t. Which is why cultures that pull kites out of the sky usually end up getting bombs dropped on them. They can’t get along with civilized human beings.

  2. Excellent post, looking forward to seeing Beijing Punk. Art is one of the most important expressions of free speech; symbolic speech always reveals more about the truth than mere words.

  3. Thanks for getting it. So many reviewers said good things about Beijing Punk but didn’t Get The Whole Point. The movie is about free thought. Freedom from self censorship. Freedom from thought prisons.
    I am excited to see the up coming Demerit blog.
    Demerit are the real deal,
    So is Douglas Ernst it seems.
    Shaun Jefford.

    1. Wow! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it.

      Keep up the great work. I look forward to seeing it for years to come.

  4. It is strange to see a positive, yet pro-capitalist review of a movie about punk in china. Punk is an overwhelmingly anti-capitalist music. China is an overwhelmingly capitalistic place. Having lived in China for years, and being one of the few (got to be less than a few hundred) actual underground western punks (as opposed to punk fans) to have done so, I can tell you that the there is a lot of resentment of capitalism among the few young punks there there too, not just state censorship. And those things are not opposed anyway. But China is no North Korea, millions of millions of Chinese talk smack about every aspect of the government online everyday in China.

    And truthfully, we can talk about dictatorship all we want, but China is made of thousands of little fiefdoms. Lack of freedom is as much about local bullies, Confucianism, family values, and economic competition than about dictators. Chinese’s youths’ lives of regimentation, boredom, submission and overstudy is more to get them into the best Uni and the best paying job ,so mom and day can keep up with Joneses. It is less due to some kind of governmental over-regulation.

    1. Punk is also about standing up to authority.

      Could it be that there is resentment of capitalism in China because Bastiat, Hayek, Friedman and a whole host of other economists have been generally hidden from individuals who would benefit from being introduced to them? Somehow, I don’t see universities in China dedicating classes to Adam Smith, do you? Absent any real understanding of the free market, it makes sense that kids who are spoon-fed government propaganda their entire life would resent less diluted forms of capitalism.

      Yes, parts of China have a fair amount of economic freedom, but a country can’t realize its full potential until it also allows for political freedom. This post was generally about political freedom, so in that sense I’m not sure why it’s “strange” for you that it exists.

      Regardless, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  5. The punk movement since the 80s has always been anarchist/socialist in nature. I didn’t know that you were coming from a radical free market viewpoint. I don’t think capitalism is a form of economic freedom and your libertarian capitalist angle makes you a total stranger to the politics of punk, which is anti-commercial.

    1. So savi is the arbiter of the true definition of “punk”? Got it. You know that Johnny Ramone was a conservative, right? I suppose the Ramones weren’t punk now, according to the “punk-as-defined-by-savi” rule.

      But yes, you’re right, punk is so anti-commerical that punk bands want you to buy their albums and t-shirts and then pay to see them in concert.

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