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So you’ve learned some Chinese, seen a few Zhang Yimou movies and now you want to see what Chinese music has to offer? In this article I’ll share some experiences on how to find and download Chinese music. “Chinese” is used in the broadest possible sense — including music from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and overseas communities performed in any Chinese dialect.

Anyone who has ever tried finding Chinese music on English language file-sharing networks knows that it is a pointless exercise which will fail 98% of the time. Therefore, I will cover only on the Chinese language alternatives and we will be searching using Chinese. This means that if you can’t read any Chinese you’re going to have a hard time following this guide.

As an example in this article we’ll be looking for music by Jay Chou, the unchallenged king of mandopop. If you only know the artist’s “English” name then Wikipedia will usually be of help; from the Jay Chou article we learn that his name is 周杰倫 in traditional Chinese and 周杰伦 in simplified. The distinction between traditional and simplified Chinese is sometimes important, as I will point out below.

Baidu MP3

Baidu is a mainland China search engine with a large number of services and a very strong standing in the local market. One of those services is Baidu MP3, which indexes music files on the web. This might sound illegal somehow but it isn’t and it shouldn’t be under any sane copyright regime. However, western countries’ copyright regimes are increasingly insane and our record labels have gotten used to bullying others into doing as they want. Presumably in order to stay off their radar Baidu MP3 sometimes block searches from outside China. If you’re not in China and can’t find any music when following the below instructions, skip ahead to the proxy section.

Now let’s get down to business. Baidu MP3 is a great place to start when you want quick results and quality is not critical. Go to http://mp3.baidu.com/ and you’ll see something like this:

Just enter the enter the artist name (周杰伦) in the search box. Baidu is clever enough to understand either traditional or simplified Chinese, but the results will always be in simplified Chinese as it’s a mainland service. If you’re only interested in MP3 files, select the “mp3″ option. The search results will look something like this:

From left to right, the colums are:

  • 歌曲名 song title (e.g. 青花瓷) – click this to download an individual track
  • 歌手名 artist name (e.g. 周杰伦) – browse the artist discography and most popular songs
  • 专辑名 album title (e.g. 我很忙) – show the full track listing for the album
  • 试听 sample – listen without downloading (not very useful)
  • 歌词 lyrics – useful, but Mojim.com is better
  • 铃声 mobile ringtone – you probably don’t want this
  • 大小 file size – bigger usually means better quality
  • 格式 file format – use mp3 for portability, you don’t want wma or rm
  • 链接速度 connection speed – the more the merrier

In the simplest case you simply click on one of the songs and start downloading, but you often need to try a few different servers before finding a file of acceptable quality and download speed. The artist and album pages are useful for exploring new artists, but I would advise against collecting full albums from these listings as the files would be of uneven quality and have inconsistent metadata (ID3 tags).

The 歌曲TOP500 (top 500 songs) is also well worth mentioning. The chart is based on the number of downloads and is – due to the service’s popularity – arguably the best measure of what’s hot in China right now. Other useful top charts include 新歌TOP100 (top 100 new songs) and 歌手TOP200 (top 200 artists).

See also Sinosplice for an older Baidu MP3 guide.

Chinese Proxy Server

If you find that you can’t get any search results from Baidu, I would suggest first trying one of the other methods below. However, in the rare case where you really need Baidu, you can still do it no matter where you are geographically. Just like many Chinese netizens use proxy servers to get out of China, we can use a proxy server to get in to China. I’ve been able to use Baidu MP3 using web proxies from mainland China, Taiwan and Korea. Others may work too, so finding and configuring a proxy which works for you shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

Do note that the only place where you actually need a proxy is when searching. When downloading you aren’t connecting to Baidu so you can get much better speed if you turn the proxy off. As this requires switching the proxy on and off repeatedly, I suggest using a browser/extension which makes this convenient. In Opera you can use Tools>Quick Preferences>Enable Proxy Servers (or F12+r) to toggle the proxy. Using Firefox+FoxyProxy it seems that you can use a proxy only for mp3.baidu.com, which is even better.

Again, if using a proxy seems like a lot of trouble, just keep reading for some other services which may serve you better.

VeryCD

When I had been in Beijing for only a few days I was at a meet-up for new expats and friendly Chinese. I got on the topic of music with a Chinese guy and he soon suggested that I visit VeryCD. That was in 2006, and VeryCD is still the file sharing portal in China. It indexes files on the eDonkey network and just about everybody seems to use it.

It’s quite easy to use VeryCD: just type the artist name at the top and search away. Unlike Baidu, VeryCD doesn’t handle traditional Chinese very well, so make sure that you’re copying/inputting simplified Chinese or you may not find what you’re looking for. Except for that, the search box is very clever and will even suggest additional search terms as you type.

As an example let’s look for Jay Chou’s 2006 album Still Fantasy – 依然范特西. Searching for 周杰伦 依然范特西 will find the album in both MP3 and APE format, as well as a bonus DVD, karaoke videos, etc. Jay Chou is exceptionally popular so the results won’t always be this good, but you’ll almost always be able to find something. Go to any of those results and you’ll find a box like this:

These are the files you are looking for, but since VeryCD is just a fancy index for the eDonkey network you need an eDonkey client to actually download anything. I recommend aMule for all operating systems except Windows, where eMule might be better. After you’ve installed the client, simply clicking on the links should add the files to your download queue. Usually aMule will be able to find a peer sharing the file in question and start downloading. It’s not always fast, but it will finish in the end if you’re patient. Here I’ve downloaded and extracted the 320 kbps version:

Basically, that’s all there is to it. One nice feature worth mentioning is that VeryCD provides RSS feeds for all pages, including categories and search results. For example, you can subscribe to the Chinese music category or Jay Chou search results, which is very useful for staying up to date with very little effort. Paradise for the music fanatic!

Kad

Now that you have aMule/eMule installed, there is another method well worth mentioning. Kad is a distributed network for indexing and searching eDonkey files. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on VeryCD, try using aMule/eMule to search in the Kad network. In the search view, select type “Kad”. You also need to pay attention to traditional/simplified Chinese as there is no automatic conversion. I suggest doing one search in traditional and one in simplified to cover all the options.

Here I’ve found a karaoke (KTV) version of a song I like. Even for things that you can find on VeryCD, searching the Kad network will sometimes give you better quality or alternate versions. If you find an album in both a mainland version (大陸版/大陆版) and a Taiwan version (台灣版/台湾版) get the Taiwan release as mainland releases are often bastardized by removing/renaming tracks to please the censors. Hong Kong versions (香港版) sometimes contain Cantonese bonus tracks, which might be nice.

Recommendations

You shouldn’t have any problem finding music now, but if you don’t know where to start I can recommend a few of my favorite artists:

  • Mayday/五月天 is a Taiwanese rock band who perform in both Mandarin and Min Nan dialect. I am ridiculously fond of their song Rainbow/彩虹 from the album People Life, Ocean Wind/人生海海.
  • Jay Chou/周杰倫/周杰伦 is extremely popular, but his style may take some getting used to. New album Capricorn coming out October 9!
  • Wang Leehom/王力宏 is a successful Taiwanese American artist who also starred in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.
  • Michael Wong/光良 is a Malaysian Chinese singer who specializes in love ballads. His newer albums are only so-so though.
  • Eason Chan/陳奕迅/陈奕迅 is a Hong Kong artist with a nice voice. I especially like his 2007 Mandarin album Admit It/認了吧.
  • Faith Yang/楊乃文/杨乃文 is a Taiwanese singer with a good voice, good songs and none of the painfully “cute” image that most other female Chinese artists have. I think of her as Taiwan’s Alanis Morisette, but as I don’t really like Morisette the comparison only goes so far…

The list could go on, but if you don’t trust my taste in music (who would?) do have a look at Baidu’s top 200 artists to see what people in China are listening to instead.

Tagging

The variations in character encodings, translations, romanizations, mixture of traditional and simplified Chinese and plain errors that you can find “in the wild” makes it necessary to clean up the tags (metadata) of your files. Unless you do this it’s going to be a mess when you want to play your music in a player which uses the tags to sort things (as many portable players do). The best tool for consistent tags that I know of is MusicBrainz, even though far from all Chinese music is in the MusicBrainz database. Still, it is better than trying to fix everything by hand and you’ll probably want to use it for all your non-Chinese music anyway.

That concludes this guide. I hope that it makes sense and that it will be of use.


Karaoke is possibly the best social activity ever (五月天 – 彩虹)

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Finally, my thesis is completed and published! It is the product of work I did at Opera Software’s Beijing office last autumn and I have spent a lot of time writing the thesis report and preparing the final presentation. In short, I’ve implemented a fancy type of stroke fonts by building on well-known vector graphics concepts and modern web standards. This type of font is especially well suited for Chinese characters, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to work in the Beijing office. (Admittedly, the main reason is that I love Beijing.) I am very satisfied with the results.

Chinese character 阮 (family name Ruǎn/Nguyễn)
Chinese character 阮 (family name Ruǎn/Nguyễn)

Personally, I think the most interesting part is the stroking algorithm and its possible use in HTML 5 Canvas and SVG. However, web standards move slowly so it’s perhaps more likely it will be put to use in some other context first. Do read the report if you are interested in vector graphics and/or fonts.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are my own and not those of Opera Software.

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再见,我的北京

我本月一日已经离开了北京,我正在黑暗冷清的瑞典生活。在北京那一年半的时间只能说是我生活中最精彩的,大胆地过日子,过得快乐。去北京之前我跟自己说绝不要谈恋爱,到时候怎么忍受分离?不过,思想的力量不如爱情,结果我在北京语言大学爱上了我的越南同学。遇见爱是唯一最重要的事,但我对北京的好感不只源于爱情的记忆。反而,我认为北京固有一种魅力,一个使我念念不忘的气氛。一般说起北京的优点都会提长城、故宫、京剧、烤鸭等传统的象征。长城是很长,颐和园是很伟大,可是给我印象更深的却是最小的事。在路边买烤栗子、在教室里分析“而”的语法、在五道口吃石锅拌饭、劳动节和女朋友在后海无计划地逛逛、在电影院看姜文的作品、在KTV厅唱周杰伦——这是我的北京。

瑞典著名作家佩尔·安德斯·福格尔斯特龙(Per Anders Fogelström)的小说《我的梦想的城市》描写了一个普通工人在十九世纪的斯德哥尔摩的生活。除了家庭故事以外,小说还充满了他对斯德哥尔摩的热爱和希望。描述的是一个发展中的城市,一个“活着”的城市。北京现在同样不停地变,也带着希望往前冲。更多新高楼和汽车不见得是百分好的事情,但反正无人能否认北京有“心跳”。我在北京的时候还渐渐发觉了不仅仅是北京在变,而且北京改变了我。也许任何在国外生活的人都会受新的语言和文化的影响,但我确实低估了它的力量。我并不是说我变成了中国人(我不会也不愿),而是说通过中国的文化发现瑞典的思想未必都完美,自己的一些成见也显然不正确。反过来中国也有它的缺点,可是我相信中国人民能管好自己,不用我说。

失去了后才懂得珍惜是人之常情,现在我连北京的出租车司机也想!或许太多空气污染影响我的脑子……无论如何我知道我早晚会再去北京,再去我的梦想的城市。

喔对了,我不是直接回瑞典来的,先去越南看了我的宝贝。一切都好,你们不用担心!

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First something about Thursday’s gig at Mao. Snapline opened the show with electro-pop-rock and English vocals delivered in a “slowly going crazy” but yet charismatic manner. Next in line was what I came to see – Carsick Cars. As they entered I noticed that two of the members are actually shared with Snapline. The music, however, is not in the same genre. Rather, it’s riffy and swingy rock with lots of noisy things in between. Some would call it indie rock I suppose.

There were quite a few non-Chinese in the audience, a number of which formed a brief mosh pit to the horror of some Chinese visitors. “No thanks, I don’t mosh.” Unfortunately the band only played about 5 songs, but short is sweet I suppose. When they played the last song – 中南海 (Zhongnanhai) – every smoker in the audience bombarded the band with cigarettes while the rest of us shouted along with the not-so-hard-to-remember lyrics.

The main band was the Beijing girl punk band Hang on the Box, but as far as I’m concerned the gig was over. Afterwards I chatted a bit with the record label guy and bought an undisclosed number of copies of Carsick Cars’ album. I sat in a couch until bassist 李维思 (Li Weisi) and drummer 李青 (Li Qing) turned up and signed my album. Li Weisi smoked Zhongnanhai and I waited a bit longer until guitarist/singer 张守望 (Zhang Shouwang) came along and made my album autograph-complete. I assure you that I’m not crazy, I just thought it would be neat…


Adapted from Maybe Mars without permission.

The album includes 7 songs in Chinese and 3 in English. I’ve been listening more or less non-stop and I do think it’s really cool, especially 志愿的人 (Volunteer), 中南海 (Zhongnanhai) and 广场 (Plaza). The undisclosed number of copies that I have in my possession have a purpose, which is this: I will send a copy of Carsick Cars’ album to anyone who requests it for free, with no conditions attached whatsoever. Just contact me and tell me where you want it delivered. When all my copies are gone I hope that there are an undisclosed number of new Carsick Cars fans in the world!

Copies delivered as of 2007-11-05:

  • China: 2
  • France: 1
  • The Netherlands: 2
  • Norway: 1
  • USA: 2

Disclosure: The original number of copies were actually only 4, but since there were so many who wanted the album I went to buy all the copies in a record store here in Beijing, bringing the total to 8. Despite my best efforts I have not been able to find any more, so at this time I can’t offer to send any more. Nonetheless, I do hope that there are at least 8 new Carsick Cars fans on the planet now!
See also:

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Carsick Cars is a fairly new Beijing rock band which I discovered via MusicBrainz only yesterday. After listening to the repetetive lyrics and riffy guitar of 中南海 (Zhōngnánhǎi) I think I’m hooked! The title refers to the name of a popular brand of cigarettes, but Zhongnanhai is also the name of the area to the west of the Forbidden City (called the New Forbidden City by Beijingers) from where the Party runs the People’s Republic.

中南海,中南海……中南海,中南海
中南海,中南海……抽烟只抽中南海
中南海,中南海……生活离不开中南海
中南海,中南海……谁他妈抽了我的中南海?[source]

Zhongnanhai, Zhongnanhai… Zhongnanhai, Zhongnanhai
Zhongnanhai, Zhongnanhai… I only smoke Zhongnanhai
Zhongnanhai, Zhongnanhai… I can’t live without Zhongnanhai
Zhongnanhai, Zhongnanhai… who fucking smoke my Zhongnanhai?

Figuring out which Zhongnanhai the lyrics might refer to is left as an exercise to the reader. I haven’t been able to get hold of their self-titled debut album yet, but a record shop in 东单 has a copy booked for me. On Thursday they’re playing at the Mao Club and everyone must go! For those not in Beijing, here’s the video of Zhongnanhai instead.

See also:

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I’m sorry. Life is good!

I’m sorry that I haven’t updated my blog in such a long time. I’m sorry that I’ve written too much in Chinese. I’m sorry that I am in Beijing when all of my friends are not. I’m sorry that I’m not going to translate that article about me until I write my memoirs.

Since my last post I’ve been back to Sweden to get myself a new visa and was back in Beijing on August 15. Even though I still have one year of left on my computer science degree I am already doing my thesis project here at Opera Software‘s Beijing office. The topic may or not be secret and involves many things that I really enjoy doing. I should be done by January, because that’s when I’m going to continue my studies in Linköping.

Next week is a national holiday in China, at which time my angel/girlfriend is coming from Việt Nam to see me. I cannot imagine a better way to spend the week than roaming around Beijing, going to all the places we used to like. 太幸福了! What’s more, I’m going to visit her in Hà Nội (the capital of Việt Nam) in the first two weeks of January before going back to Sweden. Life is good!


Interview with me in Shanghai IT Times 2007-06-15

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The 1937 Chinese film Crossroads is now available on archive.org.

看得出来,我是电影迷。今天又推荐一部影片:1937年的《十字街头》。

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The 1934 Chinese film The Big Road is now available on archive.org.

今天又上传了一部电影:孙瑜1934年导演的《大路》。我还没看完,不过影片开头的合唱镜头很好玩:轰!轰!轰!哈哈哈哈!轰!我们是开路的先锋……

以前上传过的电影 Previously uploaded films

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Xiamen (厦门) is a coastal city in Fujian province, China. It was one of the first cities to open up to foreign investment in the 1980’s and has seen good economic growth since. Only 16 km from the city center, Tenglong Aromatic PX is constructing a 10.8 billion RMB chemical plant that is expected to produce 800,000 tons of paraxylene (PX) per year. Fears of an environmental disaster has lead to the rise of what looks like a grassroots movement to stop the plans. There was some movement in the Chinese blogosphere and in the middle of May Memedia reported on anti-PX graffiti in Xiamen (the blog of the graffiti artist has since been shut down).

On the 25th of May, an SMS began spreading like a virus among the 1.5 million residents of Xiamen, being resent nearly 1 million times and also posted by some bloggers.

台湾第一通缉犯陈由豪与翔鹭集团合资已在海沧区动工投资Px(苯)项目,这种巨毒化工品一生产,厦门岛意味着放了一颗原子弹,厦门人民以后的生活将在白血病、畸形儿中度过。我们要生活、我们要健康!国际组织规定这类项目要在距城市100公里以外开发!我们厦门距此项目才16公里啊!为了我们的子孙后代,行动吧!参加万人游行,时间六月一日上午八点起,由所在地向市政府进发!手绑黄色丝带!见短信群发给厦门所有朋友!

English translation:

Taiwan top fugitive Chen You-hao and Xianglu Group’s joint venture has already begun construction of the PX plant at Haicang. Once this extremely poisonous chemical is produced, it will be like an atomic bomb for the people of Xiamen, we will have leukemia and deformed babies. We want to live, we want to be healthy! International groups prescribe that this kind of plant must be at least 100 km from cities, but our Xiamen is only 16 km away! For the sake of our grandchildren, take action! Join the 10,000 people march, beginning at the 1st of June at 8:00. We will march towards the City Hall. Wear a yellow arm ribbon! When you read this message, send it to all your friends in Xiamen.

On May 30 the local authorities held a press conference and declared that the project would be put on hold in response to public opinion (reported by Xinhua). Despite this, demonstrations went ahead on the 1st of June. Zola (“China’s first citizen reporter”) was there and reported both via his blog and twitter, as did shizhao. Good English information on the demonstrations has been provided by Jeremy Goldkorn and John Kennedy. More than 10,000 people attended the demonstrations that even continued for a second day. Although there were some reports of injuries, the authorities seem to have kept calm and not interfered much.


Oppose PX, Protect Xiamen

The end of this story has yet to come, but it seems unlikely that the project could go on when the public opinion is so massively against it. This represents a victory of the grassroots against the authorities, who have done their best to suppress reporting on the protests. The graffiti mentioned earlier has become a symbol in an Internet campaign to oppose PX which has been popping up on several of my favorite blogs the last few days:


Pass on the yellow ribbon, care for Xiamen

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This Friday I’m going to do something rather stupid: I’m going to sing on a stage for the first time in more than four years, in Chinese. It’s actually just outtakes for a talent contest at school, so it’s hardly important. Anyway, the song is Be Your Man (做你的男人) by Jeff Chang (张信哲) and to prepare I’ve annotated and translated the lyrics, which I might as well share. On a side note, Jeff Chang has a small but important role in the fairly popular film Ming Ming (明明), which also stars Zhou Xun (周迅). See it if you get a chance.

东京纽约每个地点 (Dōngjīng Niǔyuē měige dìdiǎn)
带你去坐幸福的地下铁 (dài nǐ qù zuò xìngfú de dìxià tiě)
散步逛街找电影院 (sànbù guàngjiē zhǎo diànyǐngyuàn)
累了我就帮你提高跟鞋 (lèi le wǒ jiù bāng nǐ tí gāogēnxié)
塞车停电哪怕下雪 (sāichē tíngdiàn nǎpà xiàxuě)
每天都要和你过情人节 (měitiān dōu yào hé nǐ guò qíngrénjié)
星光音乐一杯热咖啡 (xīngguāng yīnyuè yī bēi rè kāfēi)
只想给你所有浪漫情节 (zhǐ xiǎng gěi nǐ suǒyǒu làngmàn qíngjié)

Tokyo, New York, every single place.
Take you for a ride on the happy subway.
Go for a walk, windowshop, look for a cinema.
You’re tired, I carry your high heel shoes for you.
A traffic jam, a power out, it even starts to snow.
I want to spend valentines day with you every day.
Starlight, music, a cup of hot coffee.
I just want to give you an all romantic valentines day.

让我做你的男人 (ràng wǒ zuò nǐ de nánrén)
二十四个小时不睡觉 (èr shí sì gè xiǎoshí bù shuìjiào)
小心翼翼地保持 (xiǎoxīnyìyì de bǎochí)
这种热情不退烧 (zhè zhǒng rèqíng bù tuì shāo)
不管世界多纷扰 (bùguǎn shìjiè duō fēnrāo)
我们俩紧紧地拥抱 (wǒmen liǎ jǐnjǐn de yōngbào)
隐隐约约我感觉有微笑 (yǐnyǐnyuēyuē wǒ gǎnjué yǒu wēixiào)
藏在你嘴角 (cáng zài nǐ zuǐjiǎo)

Let me be your man.
I haven’t slept for twenty-four hours.
I carefully protect
this kind of non-stop passion.
No matter how much commotion in the world,
the two of us hug tightly.
I can faintly sense a smile
hidden in your lips.

做你的男人 (zuò nǐ de nánrén)
二十四个小时不睡觉 (èr shí sì gè xiǎoshí bù shuìjiào)
让胆小的你在黑夜中 (ràng dǎnxiǎo de nǐ zài hēiyè zhōng)
也会有个依靠 (yě huì yǒu gè yīkào)
就算有一天爱会变少 (jiù suàn yǒu yī tiān ài huì biàn shǎo)
人会变老 (rén huì biàn lǎo)
就算没告诉过你也知道 (jiùsuàn méi gàosu guò nǐ yě zhīdào)
下辈子还要和你遇到 (xià bèizi hái yào hé nǐ yùdào)

I’ll be your man.
I haven’t slept for twenty-four hours.
If you’re afraid in the dark night,
there will be someone there for you too.
Even though one day love becomes weaker,
and people grow older.
Even though I haven’t told you, you still know.
I’ll encounter you in my next life as well.

Previously translated lyrics:

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