The Chinese government-run newspaper Global Times published a feature yesterday on rapper Wang Yifan, a “patriotic” hip-hop artist recently embroiled in controversy after performing a freestyle at Pennsylvania State University warning students that China “will make Americans call us ‘daddy.'”
Wang is the latest in a series of Chinese rappers who Beijing have elevated in popularity, largely at the expense of non-political rappers who acquired fame organically but threatened the Communist Party by choosing not to actively promote its goals, instead focusing on more mainstream hip-hop themes like fame, money, drugs, and women.
While the Chinese government has promoted “patriotic” hip-hop in the past – and does so in their article Wednesday as well, claiming the profane pro-government group CD Rev is “gaining steam” – Wang Yifan’s rap lyrics cross a new frontier in their messaging by attacking Chinese-Americans specifically as traitors to their race.
Wang is a former student at Penn State and was invited to perform at a gala hosted by university’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA). It is unclear why he was invited back to campus to perform and why he remains in the United States if he no longer studies in the country. The Global Times claims Wang is “taking a gap year to pursue a musical career,” but does not specify why he is pursuing that career in America. In “Chinese Daddy,” the studio track he created in the aftermath of the freestyle controversy, he expresses a desire to return home.
During a gala observing the Chinese Lantern Festival at the school, Wang performed a rap in which he said, “Chinese gala is so amazing; sooner or later, we will make Americans call us daddy.” Chinese rappers often use “daddy” to refer to someone considered a boss or major influencer, and the Chinese government itself has used it in hip-hop songs. In “The Reform Group is Two Years Old,” a rap song promoting Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s ostensibly anti-corruption Party purges, the performers refer to the country’s leader as “Big Daddy Xi.”
Penn State University professor Gong Chen, who attended the gala, sent a letter of protest to fellow professor Jenny Li, writing, “This is terrible. Some students are senseless and ill-minded!” Chen, who is Chinese-American, writes that he had stepped down from a post advising the CSSA but still wanted “to express my deep concern regarding such insulting words on stage. Many American students understand Chinese very well — I have two in my lab! They will certainly feel insulted. So do I.”
In a response, Li – who is also Chinese-American, according to the national interest website Sup China – replied that she agreed and urged the CSSA to “prevent it happens again in the future and really understand the meaning of freedom of speech.”
Wang has since published a music video for a new song, “Chinese Daddy,” in which he refers to Chen and Li as “traitors.”
The song claims Chinese-Americans and all Chinese living abroad who embrace their new homes “worship foreign countries/ forget your origin/seek wealth and power by betraying your country,” according to the Global Times translation.
“Americans are frightened by the rapid rise of China,” he raps.
Wang told the Global Times that the song is specifically written to Chinese people who “dedicate their hearts to America” and that he “would never apologize” for insulting them.
“I got angry after I learned they are ethnic Chinese. Why did they do this and use those bad words to describe me?” he told the outlet.
China is a land of many ethnicities; there is no such thing as “ethnic Chinese.” Wang appears to be referring to the majority ethnic group in China, the Han, though China is also home to Manchus, Uighurs, Huis, Mongols, and many other ethnic identities.
The Chinese Communist government has attempted to assimilate all ethnicities into Han culture, primarily by imposing the putonghua (“the common tongue,” Mandarin) in the country through its public education system.
Wang also told the Global Times that he “never intended to integrate into American society” and hopes that “one day China can surpass America.”
Chinese officials have worked to create safe spaces for such Chinese hegemonic sentiments all around the world through the use of “Confucius Institutes” at universities. The institutes, which claim only to teach Chinese language, history, and culture, are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up,” according to one top Beijing officials, and represent “an appealing brand for extending our culture abroad.”
Chinese students studying abroad, like Wang, have also taken to pressuring professors to change their teaching methods if these conflict with Communist Party doctrine.
Penn State closed its Confucius Institute in 2014.
Wang’s case exposes both problems with Chinese supremacism appearing in American universities and China’s willingness to promote hip-hop that bluntly states what has essentially become Chinese government policy. The Global Times made Wang’s feature interview the top story on its English-language site Thursday and used the opportunity to once again promote CD Rev, a group known for pro-Communist raps that feature violent imagery and misogynistic language.
CD Rev’s lead rapper, Wang Zixin (aka “Chuckie”), appears in the article on “Chinese Daddy” supporting the song. Chuckie told the outlet that American rappers are racist towards Chinese people, citing the example of a song by YG claiming that burglarizing homes of Chinese-Americans is more lucrative.
“If the Americans find Wang’s song inappropriate, and if their frail hearts feel broken, I just hope when American rappers insult Chinese in their songs, they can understand why we’re furious,” Chuckie argued.
CD Rev escaped a crackdown on rap music in January that banned “immoral and vulgar” and “low-taste” content from television and discouraging it online. CD Rev’s discography includes an anti-Taiwanese song with lyrics such as “Fuck [Taiwanese president] Tsai Ing-wen … Taiwan ain’t a country, bitch—at most a county … fuck that, the bitch Tsai Ing-wen.”
Another Chinese rapper that suffered no overt repercussions for vulgar language in rap music is Cai Zhenhong, known by his stage name “Fat Shady,” who published a song last year whose title is alternatively translated as “Stupid Immigrants” or “Fuck Off Foreigners.” While wearing designer European clothing and posing with expensive European cars, Fat Shady raps about his distaste for foreigners and insults women who dare to show romantic interest in them.
Chinese government media are promoting CD Rev and Wang Yifan as alternatives to the explosively popular, but American-influenced, hip-hop that has appeared on programs such as “The Rap of China,” a breakthrough reality television hit in 2017. The Global Times is open about this, stating, “The country’s regulators hope to transform local hip-hop culture into a positive influence with Chinese characteristics to comply with Chinese socialism.”
After years of promoting Marxist rap music in a failed attempt to woo millennials (one song Beijing released is called “Marx Is a Millennial”), popular demand for non-communist hip-hop peaking with The Rap of China appeared to take the Communist Party by surprise. In response, it banned PG One, one of the co-winners of the show, from television, and issued directives against “vulgar” content without quite defining what is or is not legal, creating a chilling effect in the industry.
The Rap of China, a smash hit, has begun auditions for its second season, but has taken its show on the road, this time seeking international talent. It is unclear whether the resulting television series will be legal to broadcast on Chinese television.