James A. Millward Professor, Department of History, Georgetown University
The guitar is, arguably, the most popular musical instrument today, in China as elsewhere in the world. China now produces most of the world's guitars. Yet guitar-playing, in either popular or art music genres, came to China only within the past few decades. In the early 20th century it appeared in jazz clubs or as props for Modern Girl pin-ups, but for reasons relating to its Western, romantic and bohemian associations the guitar remained little known beyond Shanghai and Guangzhou, was banned during the Cultural Revolution, even while it flourished in the Soviet Union through similar political epochs. In the late 20th century the guitar reemerged in China and its iconography has largely realigned with global meanings, yet it remains a transculturated object, its complicated semiotics reflecting China's evolving self-image and place in the world.
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