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China's Cutting-Edge Artists Join Global Village

For countless centuries, China preserved its conservative Confucian culture with great walls of isolation from the rest of the world, but those barriers are crumbling in the age of the Internet.

China today seems to be embarked on a headlong rush toward joining the global village, and that drive is triggering massive changes.

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The effects of cheap digital cloning and China's opening to the West are visible everywhere. On street corners and alleyways across the country, hawkers sell everything from American movies to Windows software to US grunge bands on CDs.

The Internet, satellite television, and digital technology are creating a global music stage that for the first time in history can reach and recruit from virtually any point on earth, says Jeffrey Cheen, who markets American music here.

And as Chinese fashion, art, and new-wave films infiltrate the West, both Chinese and American music experts say the rock group Sober may be the first Chinese band to grab the spotlight in the new, borderless digital world.

"Sober is at the peak of a new wave in Chinese music," says DJ Zhang Youdai. "When you first hear their CD, you say to yourself, 'Wow, this is great. I can't believe this is a Chinese band,' " he says.

Up-and-coming competitors in Chinese cutting-edge music include Catcher in the Rye and Supermarket, says Mr. Zhang.

He adds that Sober's music, which sounds like a cross between the Beatles and Talking Heads, could invade the dance floors and airwaves of London or New York as easily as those in China.

Mr. Cheen says one of Beijing's current rock stars is likely to be the first to launch a counter-invasion of the US.

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Sober's Shen Lihui relishes the idea. "We all live in a global living room watching a global TV set," he says. "Until now, the programming has been dominated by the US, but the next century is likely to bring a more multicultural mix where American youths will one day watch Chinese rock bands."

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