Yang Yi

b. 1969, Wengcheng, Guangdong
Acclaimed by some media as the ‘Chinese Bob Dylan’ or ‘minstrel in quasi-capitalist China’, Yang Yi is a Beijing-based folksinger. Having quit high school at age sixteen, he has been trying to live outside the institutional system of Chinese society. He first attempted various jobs, such as electronics repairman, graphic designer and bar singer, before being inspired by an American who introduced him to Bob Dylan and the American Folksong Movement in 1992. Bored by the over-commercialized life in Guangzhou, he then chose a life on the road, singing periodically outside the National Art Gallery in Beijing. Since 1993, he has also begun roving and collecting folksongs in the Chinese hinterland, especially in northern Shaanxi province, and writes songs about the life of the ‘floating population’, in which he includes himself.
Technically and spiritually, Yang draws on the heritage of both the American folksong revival and traditional Chinese folksong.
To the accompaniment of a guitar and a harmonica attached to his head, he sings about the daily life and concerns of China’s common people: a roast sweet-potato vendor who tries to avoid policemen and taxmen, migrant workers looking for jobs everywhere, personal memories of life in a small Hakka town, and so forth. He also sings folksongs collected from Shaanxi in the local style. Having attracted extremely diverse audiences, Yang has nevertheless refused to associate with any established record company, maintaining his independence. Instead, in 2000, he personally produced his first CD, Neibu cankao (For Internal Reference Only; also called Minstrel in Tune with Life), whose limited copies were sold mainly on the spot during street performances. Yang Yi has been invited to perform at a folk music festival in Frankfurt, Germany, and performed on college campuses in Beijing and Shanghai in 2001.
Shi, Anbin (2003). ‘Rock-and-Roll on the Road of a Post-Socialist “Long March”: A “Chinese Bob Dylan” and His Quest for a New Socio-Cultural Identity’. In idem, A Comparative Approach to Redefining Chinese-ness in the Era of Globalization. Lewiston: Mellen Press, 79–128.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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