A Brief History of China’s Music Industry – Part 3: The Recorded Music Industry in China From the 1950s to the Early 2000s

The music industry of China is an unknown continent from a Western music business research perspective. Therefore it is very meritorious that John Fangjun Li, a lecturer and PhD candidate (2008-2012) at Macquarie University, provides one of the first overviews of the history of China’s music industry for an international readership. In a series of four blog contributions he highlights the development of the recorded music industry in more than 100 years from the final period of Imperial China to the current Peoples Republic of China. He gives an overview of the impact of Western major recorded music companies in the first half of the 20th century and of the emergence of serveral state operated but also privately owned Chinese companies after the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing and other large cities. He also highlights the current digital music business in China that has been dominating the recorded music industry since the the mid 2000s.

This part on the Chinese music industry by John Fangjun Li covers the second half of the 20th century after the emergence of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 over the period of the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), China’s Economic Reform and Opening-up Policy until the current digital music industry in China.

Guest post by John Fangjun Li
The second period of China’s recorded music industry from the 1950s to the early 2000s can be subdivided into shorter periods due to different economy systems before and after 1978. The early years were shaped by the implementation of the planned economy system by establishing the state-owned China Record Corporation, turning a commercial music business into a not-for-profit industry sector, which shaped China’s music industry also during the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) (Li, 2012).

Before China’s Economic Reform and Opening-up Policy (CEROP) in 1978, the China Record Corporation (CRC) was the only music recording industry body in China (Li, 2006). The CRC system consisted of the Beijing headquarter with branches in larger cities such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu (Zhang and Wang, 2009; Fang and Wei, 2008).

After 1978 the music industry in China was freed from state restrictions. This enabled the establishment of commercial record companies during the 1980s (Li and Morrow, 2012). The Central Bureau of Broadcasting as the national governmental organization to administer the audio-visual sector loosened the restrictions for operating audio visual businesses in China to develop this sector (Zhang and Wang, 2009).

In the 1980s, most of the profit oriented record companies were successively established in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing such as the ‘Guangzhou Pacific Audio Visual Company’ (‘GPAVC’), the ‘Shanghai Audio Visual Company’, the ‘Guangzhou New Times Audio Visual Company’, the ‘Shanghai Audio Visual Company’, the ‘Shanghai Audio Visual Press’ (‘SAVP’), the ‘Audio Visual Press of Chinese Musician Association’ and so on (Wang, 2004; Li and Morrow, 2012). The ‘GPAVC’ was the first local commercial record company established in 1979 (Lun, 1988; Li, 2010; Wang, 1999). These companies greatly influenced China’s recorded music industry particularly during the 1990s (Li and Morrow, 2012; Zhang and Wang, 2009).

From the regional music industry perspective, the recorded music industry in China ran through two periods until the early 2000s. In the first period from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, the ‘Guangzhou New Times Audio Visual Company’ was one of the first record companies in China that started to sign pop singers with great commercial success (Wang, 2009; Li and Morrow, 2012). In the following, other record companies in Guangzhou such as the ‘Guangzhou Pacific Audio-Visual Company’, the ‘Guangzhou Company of the China Record Corporation’, the ‘White Swan Audio Visual Press’, and the ‘Guangdong Audio Visual Press’ also signed local pop singers. Guangzhou’s recorded music industry rapidly developed due to the success of this signing policy in this period. Thus, the period from the late 1980s to the early 1990s can be called as ‘the Guangzhou Period’.

In the period from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, the recorded music industry rapidly developed in Shanghai as well as in Beijing while Guangzhou’s recorded music industry started to decline (Li, 1995; Jin, 2002). Shanghai focused on music record publishing and distribution while Beijing focused on music recording (Li, 1995; Li and Morrow, 2012). They, in particular Shanghai recorded music industry, greatly promoted the recorded music industry in this period. The ‘Shanghai Audio Visual Press’, ‘Shanghai Company of China’s Record Corporation’ and ‘Shanghai Audio Visual Press’ were commonly regarded as the three leading record companies in China during the second half of the 1990s (Li, 1995).

There were also a handful of smaller privately owned music record companies that influenced China’s recorded music industry in the 1990s such as the ‘Taihe Rye Company’, the ‘Guangdong Meika Company’, the ‘Beijing Jindian Audio Visual Company’ and the ‘Beijing Dadi Music Production Company’. Although they played a role in linking music production/recording and distribution, they had less influence in the recorded music industry compared to those larger record companies such as the ‘GPAVC’ and the ‘SAVP’ in this period (Jin, 2002).


Fang, H. and Wei, Y. (2008). China Publishing History. Beijing, China: China Ancient Publishing Press.

Jin, Z. (2002). Experiencing Chinese Popular Music. Beijing, China: People’s Music Publishing House.

Li, F. (1995). China’s Music Recorded Music Industry: Shanghai Landscape Was the Best. Wuhan Evening News.

Li, X. (2006). The History of China‘s Cultural Industries. Changsha, China: Hunan Art and Literature Press.

Li, F. (2010). A Study of the Research Activity of China’s Music Industry Since the Reform and Opening-Up and Some Other Related Issues. Huangzhong: Journal of Wuhan Conservatory of Music, (3), pp.12-23.

Li, F. (2011). The Development of China’s Music Industry During the First Half of the 20th Century. NEO, (1).

Li, F. (2012). China’s Music Industry: Evolution, Development and Convergence, PhD thesis at Macquarie University.

Li, F. and Morrow, G. (2012). Strategic Leadership in China’s Music Industry: A Case  Study of the Shanghai Audio Visual Press. In the book ‘Arts Leadership: International Case Studies’. Melbourne, Australia: Tilde University Press. August 2012.

Lou, J. (2008). The study of Shanghai‘s Urban Entertainment. Shanghai, China: Wenhui Publishing House.

Lun, Z. (1988). Insist on Win by Quality in the Competition – The Operating Practice of Guangzhou Pacific Audio-Visual Company.Guangzhou Research, (7).

Wang, J. (1999). The Chinese Recorded Music Industry During 50 Years. China Electronic Information (Visual Audio Expo), (7).

Wang, J. (2006). The Analysis of the State of China’s Audio Visual Industry.  Publishing Research, (8).

Zhang, L. and Wang J. (2009). China and Foreign Audio Visual Publishing Industry and Related Policy Research. Beijing: China Book Company.

Part 4: The Contemporary Digital Music Industry in China

John Fangjun Li is adjunct lecturer and PhD candidate (2008-2012) at Macquarie University, Sydney, Coordinator of the Australian-Chinese Music Industry Research Network, a member of IASPM (Aus-NZ). Previously he worked in Southern Cross University Australia (assistant researcher), Beijing Institute of Contemporary Music (head of the college of arts management), China Conservatory Music (associate professor), and Shanghai Synergy Cultural & Entertainment Group (music producer and marketing manager). He also obtained masters in arts management in Australia, masters in ethnomusicology, and a bachelor in music education in China. His main research interest areas are music industry, arts management, and creative industries. He published more than ten papers in international core journals and participated in some main international conferences in these areas. John Fangjun Li’s email: lifangjun17@gmail.com


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December 2012




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