Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hrs / session

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to the major popular music cultures of the Chinese-speaking world. We will consider a wide variety of genres, from Shanghainese shidaiqu to Cantopop to Taiwanese rap, with the goal of listening beyond the notion of a monolithic "Chinese popular music" to something more dynamic, multivocal, and translocal. We will ask: What, if anything, is so "Chinese" about Chinese popular music? How does popular music participate in the formation of identities for artists and audiences in these areas? How does it enable the articulation of diverging social and political values while also facilitating meaningful connections among disparate communities? We will approach these questions through a diverse array of source materials, including sound recordings, music videos, films, and online multimedia.

Learning Objectives

Beyond gaining familiarity with the musical repertoire under discussion, a central goal of this course is for us to become conversant in the new scholarship about Chinese popular musics. Most of the texts we will discuss this semester were written after the turn of the twenty-first century, a reflection not only of the recent growth of popular music studies but also of increasing attention to the Chinese-speaking world as a key participant in the global circulation of ideas and cultural products. We will contemplate the sounds and subjects that have thus far been absent from the discourse, and consider how we as young scholars might work to push the conversation in new and interesting directions. Writing and listening assignments will facilitate the development of skills for popular music analysis and research, including the critical use and evaluation of online sources. For the purposes of the final course project, we will learn how to integrate writing and rich media content in the powerful Web publishing tool Scalar.


While familiarity with the localities under discussion and some knowledge of Mandarin, Cantonese, or Taiwanese Hoklo is useful, it is not necessary for participation in this course.

Source readings will be in English and translations will be provided whenever possible for non-English content. Additionally, no musical background is assumed or required—all are welcome!

Responsibilities and Requirements

You will be graded on your participation in class discussions and several written assignments, Including:

  • Contributions to the class Tumblr (links and brief commentary on at least 4 articles, videos, songs, or other relevant media)
  • An analytical essay about one song (1–2 pages)
  • A critical response to one "suggested" reading (1 page), presented to class (10 minutes); I will circulate a sign-up sheet on the first day of class
  • A curated mix tape with commentary on your musical choices (5-6 pages)
  • An concert report (5-6 pages)
  • A multimedia research project and accompanying 10 to 15-minute oral presentation on a topic of your choice, pre-approved by me, to be authored with the Web publishing tool Scalar (2000–2500 words; see "Class Tumblr and Final Project" below)

In addition to our required class meetings, we will attend a concert by singer Qu Wanting at Brighton Music Hall on Monday, March 10.

More detailed instruction on all written assignments will be provided in class at the appropriate time. There is no final exam for this course, but I will occasionally administer short in-class quizzes that cover material from lecture, readings, or listening assignments. These are for diagnostic purposes only and will not be graded. All papers are to be submitted in hard copy at the beginning of class on the due date. Any work submitted after class will be considered late and assessed at a penalty of 1 / 3 of a letter grade per day.

Regular class attendance is required and students are expected to actively and enthusiastically participate in all discussions and in-class activities. Excessive absences will thus negatively affect your attendance grade and your course grade as a whole. If you must miss class due to illness or for personal reasons, please email me to explain your absence. If your illness or another issue is affecting your attendance or performance in class, be sure to contact the counseling deans at MIT Student Support Services.

Grades will be weighted as follows:

Attendance and class participation 30%
Contributions to the class Tumblr 5%
Short written assignments 25%
Multimedia research project and oral presentation 40%

Course Conduct

Laptops and tablets are permitted in the classroom but I ask you to refrain from the use of all texting, instant messaging, and social media applications during our meetings. This is to ensure that we all remain as present and invested as possible in class discussions. Abuse of this policy will affect your participation grade. If you simply can't resist logging on to Facebook or Twitter during class time, I encourage you to download an app like SelfControl (for Mac users), which allows you to block your own access to mail servers and distracting websites for a period of time that you determine.

Please remember that plagiarism is a serious academic offense, involving the unacknowledged use of another person's intellectual work by quotation, paraphrase, or summary. Keep in mind that citation guidelines for the kinds of online materials you might want to reference in your assignments, including video clips and music, are constantly evolving. If none of the resources I have provided answer your questions about how to properly acknowledge a particular source, don't hesitate to ask me. For further information, visit MIT's Academic Integrity policy website.

Accessible Learning

Students requiring accommodations because of a documented disability must present an Accommodation Letter prepared by Disabilities Services and speaks with the instructor by the end of the second week of the term. Failure to do so may result in the instructor's inability to respond in a timely manner. If you have questions regarding accommodations, please contact the MIT Disabilities Services. All discussions will remain confidential.

Class Tumblr and Final Project

The final project for this course will consist of a 2000- to 2500-word composition, thoughtfully integrated with collected multimedia. You will author this composition in Scalar, a versatile, free, open-source publishing platform that allows for the creation of born-digital scholarship. Scalar invites users to create multidirectional narratives, embed rich media content, and create annotations of said content. We will learn how to use the platform as a group over the course of the semester; MIT's digital humanities librarians will also be available to provide support. As for the subject matter of your final project, the topic is up to you! I encourage you to look throughout the semester for lacunae in the scholarship we're examining: Are artists missing who you think are interesting? Are certain issues being overlooked? Whose perspectives seem to be missing?

You will make at least four (although I welcome more) contributions to our class Tumblr throughout the semester and I encourage you to consider that activity part of your preparation for the final project. Links to articles, songs, or videos that you post to the Tumblr may address any topic or repertoire and can be excellent fodder for your research. In addition to a link, please provide two to three sentences of commentary on the item (e.g. why you think the item is interesting, relevant to our discussion, etc.).

Course Readings

There are three required texts for this class.


Amazon logo Jones, Andrew. Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age. Duke University Press, 2001. [Preview with Google Books]

Amazon logo ———. Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music. Cornell University, 1992. ISBN: 9780939657575.

Amazon logo Lum, Casey Man Kong. In Search of a Voice: Karaoke and the Construction of Identity in Chinese America. Routledge, 1996. ISBN: 9780805819113. [Preview with Google Books]

Other assigned reading, viewing, and listening assignments can be found in the section of Reading, Viewing, and Listening.

Related Resources

MIT Lewis Music Library Research Guide to World Music