China Beat Archive



Tim Hathaway

Date of this Version


Document Type



August 10, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright August 10, 2010 Tim Hathaway. Used by permission.


A quick listen to Zuoxiao Zuzhou’s (左小祖咒)music would not be enough to explain his fame. His trademark is singing off key.

In spite of the odd sounding vocals or perhaps because of its contrast to the saccharine sweet sounds of Chinese pop and rock, Zuoxiao has become one of China’s most successful rock musicians.

He started his career in 1993 and has since produced ten albums. He has also published a best selling novel and created sculptures and artistic photography. He was a founding member of the avant garde artists residence called Beijing’s “East Village” in the early 1990s where he first met Ai Weiwei and others whom he still collaborates with.

Zuoxiao recently worked with the Canadian rock band Cowboy Junkies on their new album Renmin Park which came out in June. The Junkies covered one of his songs and asked him to do the vocals on another.

The following is a compilation of two interviews I did with Zuoxiao regarding his collaboration with the Junkies and his own career as a Chinese musician, writer, and artist.

TH: Can you explain why you have such a distinct singing style? What reactions has it gotten?

ZXZZ: I’ve always wanted to make art more intimate and use a singing style that’s relatively easy to communicate with and to distill my art. But you know, when it comes to the aesthetics, most people stop at the level of enjoyment or its purported educational value, so there are people who say they like what I do. Others admire it. Others are indignant. There’s all kinds of reactions.

TH: How did you meet Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies?

ZXZZ: We’ve never actually met, nor have we ever directly communicated because we speak different languages. For the last two years a rock critic named Eric Chen has been our go between and helped us communicate. I’m very thankful that Cowboy Junkies thought high enough of my work. Their cover of “I Cannot Sit Sadly by Your Side” has been better received than my own version.