The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Spare a thought for a recent recruit to China’s underground rock magazine SoRock. Hired from far away Gansu province - the equivalent of a south Carolinan going to work for a New Jersey magazine the journalist (his editor Xiao Zhu won't give me his name) was arrested on his way to SoRock’s office in Shijiazhuang, two hours drive south of Beijing. “The police gave me a very vague reason for the arrestment,” says editor Xiao Zhu. “It's called illegal publishing.”
Though popular SoRock is illegal because it doesn’t have the government-assigned barcode which all publications require for distribution in mainland China. SoRock has however dodged the law by strapping CDs onto the cover and passing the magazine off as an audio-visual product - see my earlier blog on SoRock's circulation.
Readers are drawn by the magazine broaching taboos: “Our best selling editions dealt with issues readers can not read in state-owned media. We revealed the darkness of our society instead of advocating the prosperities and achievements.”
Success is a double-edged sword. “That is the reason why we face a lot of trouble, however, that is also the reason why we can thrive and develop.” National distribution gets SoRock into “some cities you've never heard of before,” says Zhu, who refuses to divulge circulation figures. Most sales happen on the newsstands: because the magazine lacks a bar code mail subscription through state-run China Post is not an option.
“So many people often get on our backs,” moans Xiao Zhu, one of four rock music fans who founded the magazine in 1999. “We are not only the writers or editors of the magazines but also the investors and bosses.” The magazine was launched “just for fun… we never thought at that time that it would grow so big.”
SoRock today employs 15. It’s hard to find good writers. “What the writers and editors in the magazine really lack is ideas and creativities.” Xiao & co keep the operation in ShiJiazhuang rather than more culturally vibrant Beijing “because we are Shi Jiangzhuang Ren (people). The best rock bands and shows are in the capital, but after 10 years in the business Xiao Zhu says his “passion for particular bands or rockers gradually faded away.” He recommends however a band in Hangzhou called Yu Ren. “They play great music.”

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Nuggets from our archive

2003 - Witnness 2003, a comprehensive review by Brian Kelly of the 2 days of what transpired to be the last ever Witnness festival (in 2004 it was rebranded as Oxegen when Heineken stepped into the sponsor shoes).