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A foreigner’s passion for playing rock in China

Jeroen hikes on the Great Wall Photo: courtesy of Jeroen Groenewegen-Lau

During the concerts given by the popular Chinese rock band Secondhand Rose (二手玫瑰), the audience can see a 30-something foreigner playing percussion on the stage without singing too much. The tall and thin man has a melancholic expression on his face at times.

Jeroen Groenewegen-Lau (雨龙) comes from a small village called Naaldwijk—which means wetland in Dutch—in the Netherlands. He works as a translator and lecturer in Beijing, but playing in the band is what he is most enthusiastic about.

Early trips to China

Jeroen majored in China Studies in the university in the Netherlands and then decided to move to China. He read some Chinese poetry with the help of English translation when he was in high school. “I couldn’t understand Chinese characters then at all and was puzzled how they could fit together, so I decided to learn a bit of Chinese on my own by going to the library, taking some courses and listening to tapes,” he said.

Jeroen got an opportunity to visit China after his second year in university. He came to Beijing and studied at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU, 北京语言学院) in 2001, but he didn’t really like the atmosphere of the campus. “BLCU had too many foreigners but I wanted to know real China,” he said.

With previous experience in playing drums back in the Netherlands, Jeroen started to play in bands at various music events in Beijing. He went back to the Netherlands after the one-year “study abroad” program. In 2003, he obtained a scholarship and came to Beijing for a second time. This time he studied in Capital Normal University (首都师范大学), doing some fieldwork for his MA thesis. The thesis was about rock music in China.

He went to music shows and festivals and talked to members of rock bands, including Tongue (舌头), Miserable Faith (痛苦的信仰) and Secondhand Rose. “The rock scene in China was quite small when I was doing research on them in 2004. I thought the Tongue band was the most interesting. They were clearly anti-mainstream with a strong political message in their lyrics.”

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