“Communist” China summed up in one bumper sticker

Passed this on the way out this morning:

xiangqiankan Communist China summed up in one bumper sticker
我们的目标
Our goal: look to money, look to thick profits

Chairman Mao, as some stories have it, refused to even touch money. After his death, Deng Xiaoping launched China’s ‘Reform and Opening’ and ‘Modernization’ Era under the slogans: “Liberate thinking, seek truth from facts, join together and unanimously look forward” (解放思想实事求是团结一致). He probably meant “look forward” to mean something like, “let’s not dwell on all that nonsense of the past few decades, but instead get on with making a better future.” The bumper sticker simply switches out “front” (前 qián) for “money” (钱 qián), turning “look forward” into “look to money” — both phrases are pronounced exactly the same: xiàng qián kàn.

20140113 275 Communist China summed up in one bumper stickerThere are a million anecdotes to illustrate the way Mainland Chinese unapologetically prioritize money. The most recent one is from some study reported in a magazine (I forget which), indicating that Chinese tie material wealth to happiness at more than twice the global average.

P.S. – I suspect there’s more to the bumper sticker, but that’s all I’ve got for now.

P.P.S. – Here’s a Chinese forum thread admiring the same slogan on a custom license plate: 我的目标-向钱看-向厚赚-牛B720

P.P.P.S – What would the equivalent bumper sticker say in your home country, if it were equally honest?

P.P.P.P.S. – Like Propaganda?

Chinese propaganda poster jackpot!

The International Institute of Social History has a collection of Chinese propaganda posters with translations and explanations in three categories:
1. Early years (1949-1965);
2. Cultural Revolution (1966-1976);
3. Modernization (1977-1997).

elect1 Chinese propaganda poster jackpot!
“Elect Good People to Do Good Things”

Political clues in the “Chinese Google” — what a Chinese search engine can tell you

baidu Political clues in the Chinese Google    what a Chinese search engine can tell you

Baidu would have been Google’s main competitor in China, if Google had been allowed to compete. Dr. Mary Ann O’Donnell has discovered that a particular very taboo search term is apparently no longer taboo. She perceives a significant power shift, concluding, “it signals the end of the Jiang era. The Two Meetings are churning relentlessly forward and it seems that power has been wrested from Jiang [Zemin]’s hands.” This raises other questions about the possibility that other related and extremely sensitive topics might be opened up in the near future, and what that indicates regarding the character and attitudes toward information of China’s next batch of leaders.

This is especially intriguing given the recent political “Bo-mb” dropped by the authorities last week, and the power struggles that may indicate.

I’d describe her post more clearly if it weren’t loaded with sensitive search terms. So you’ll have to go read it yourself.

Related stuff:

Chinese childhood before and after Reform & Opening

The Foreign Expert translates a magazine spread where writers recall their childhoods from the ’60s through the ’80s. The essays “follow the thread of China’s modernization and opening up, from the simple, hopeful lives of the Cultural Revolution to the first big influx of products and ideas two decades later” — Bread, Milk, and Pocket Change: A Brief History of Childhood.

Nothing to My Name / 一无所有

“Nothing to My Name” has been called the biggest hit song in Mainland Chinese history. If you’re only gonna learn one Chinese karaoke tune, this is the song. And if you’re looking for a poignant time to learn it, this is the month.

一无所有 / yīwúsuǒyǒu / Nothing to My Name

If you’re in Great Firewalled Youtube-blocking Mainland China you can see the video here (thanks, Ryan!). Listen to the mp3 here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


一无所有 channeled the disillusionment, anxieties, hopes, frustrations, complaints, and rebellion of urban Mainlanders coming of age during the ideological thaw of 80’s China. They adopted it as their generation’s anthem. Even many 90’s kids (in their mid to late 20s now) still connect strongly to this song.

cuijianblindfold Nothing to My Name / 一无所有Cuī Jiàn (崔健) is often called “the father of Chinese rock.” He first performed “Nothing to My Name” on a TV talent show in 1985 and then at a major concert in 1986. China’s urban young people ate it up. This month marks the 20th anniversary of a third significant performance, but I’ll let you follow the links at the end of this post to discover the more dramatic and sensitive details about the significance of Cuī Jiàn and “Nothing to My Name.”

Lyrics & Guitar Chords
From the beginning people interpreted the ambiguous lyrics in different ways (politics, sex, love & economics). But it was no secret that the lyrics were intended to contain both national and critical meanings. Cuī Jiàn’s concerts, in which he’d perform with a red blindfold over his eyes and play other songs with more pointed lyrics, left little doubt as to the targets of the critique. Those ‘targets’ responded by banning Cuī Jiàn from playing any large, significant performances for over 15 years.

The vagueness of the lyrics leaves this song open to a wide variety of English renderings. The English translation below is based on the translation found at cuijian.com (see other English renderings here and here). The title literally could mean “having nothing” or “not having anything.”

The guitar chords in the download aren’t perfect, but close. If you catch any mistakes on that or the translation, let me know! Download: YiWuSuoYou.pdf

You can play the video or mp3 above and follow along here:

我曾经问个不休 / wǒ céngjīng wèn gè bùxiū
I’ve asked (you) endlessly

你何时跟我走 / nǐ hé shí gēn wǒ zǒu
When will you go with me?

可你却总是笑我 / kě nǐ què zǒngshì xiào wǒ
But you always just laugh at me

一无所有 / yīwúsuǒyǒu
(with) nothing to my name

我要给你我的追求 / wǒ yào gěi nǐ wǒde zhuīqiú
I want to give you my dreams

还有我的自由 / háiyǒu wǒde zìyóu
(and I) also have my freedom (to give you)

可你却总是笑我 / kě nǐ què zǒngshì xiào wǒ
But you always just laugh at me

一无所有 / yīwúsuǒyǒu
(with) nothing to my name

 

噢 你何时跟我走 / ō nǐ hé shí gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! When will you go with me?

噢 你何时跟我走 / ō nǐ hé shí gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! When will you go with me?

 

脚下这地在走 / jiǎo xià zhè dì zài zǒu
The ground beneath my feet is moving

身边那水在流 / shēnbiān nà shuǐ zài liú
The water beside me is flowing

可你却总是笑我 / kě nǐ què zǒngshì xiào wǒ
But you always just laugh at me

一无所有 / yīwúsuǒyǒu
(with) nothing to my name

为何你总是笑个没够 / wèihé nǐ zǒngshì xiào gè méi gòu
Why is your laughter never enough?

为何我总要追求 / wèihé wǒ zǒng yào zhuīqiú
Why will I always search?

难道在你面前我永远 / nándào zài nǐ miànqián wǒ yǒngyuǎn
Could it be that before you I’ll forever…

是一无所有 / shì yīwúsuǒyǒu
…have nothing to my name?

 

噢 你何时跟我走 / ō nǐ hé shí gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! When will you go with me?

噢 你何时跟我走 / ō nǐ hé shí gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! When will you go with me?

[instrumental break]

脚下这地在走 / jiǎo xià zhè dì zài zǒu
The ground under my feet is moving

身边那水在流 / shēnbiān nà shuǐ zài liú
The water beside me is flowing

脚下这地在走 / jiǎo xià zhè dì zài zǒu
The ground under my feet is moving

身边那水在流 / shēnbiān nà shuǐ zài liú
The water beside me is flowing

 

告诉你我等了很久 / gàosu nǐ wǒ děng le hěn jiǔ
(I’m) telling you I’ve waited a long time

告诉你我最后的要求 / gàosu nǐ wǒ zuìhòu de yāoqiú
(So I’m) telling you my final request

我要抓起你的双手 / wǒ yào zhuā qǐ nǐde shuāngshǒu
I want to grab you by the hands

你这就跟我走 / nǐ zhè jiù gēn wǒ zǒu
And then you’ll go with me

这时你的手在颤抖 / zhè shí nǐde shǒu zài chàndǒu
This time your hands are trembling

这时你的泪在流 / zhè shí nǐde lèi zài liú
This time your tears are flowing

莫非你是正在告诉我 / mòfēi nǐ shì zhèngzài gàosu wǒ
Can it be that you are telling me

你爱我一无所有 / nǐ ài wǒ yīwúsuǒyǒu
You love me with nothing to my name?

 

噢 你这就跟我走 / ō nǐ zhè jiù gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! Now you’ll go with me

噢 你这就跟我走 / ō nǐ zhè jiù gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! Now you’ll go with me

[guitaaarrrr soooloooo!!!]

脚下这地在走 / jiǎo xià zhè dì zài zǒu
The ground under my feet is moving

身边那水在流 / shēnbiān nà shuǐ zài liú
The water beside me is flowing

脚下这地在走 / jiǎo xià zhè dì zài zǒu
The ground under my feet is moving

身边那水在流 / shēnbiān nà shuǐ zài liú
The water beside me is flowing

 

噢 你这就跟我走 / ō nǐ zhè jiù gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! Now you’ll go with me

When a Chinese friend in Tianjin downloaded a bunch of songs for me to learn, he made a point to highlight this one. Our Chinese textbooks have a whole lesson devoted to it, and when our teachers taught it they said it represents their generation. But I have a couple teenage Mainlanders in my ESL classes here in Vancouver, and none of them have even heard of this song or Cuī Jiàn. Of course, that’s not the only significant 20-year-old piece of Chinese history that they didn’t know about, so I assigned them some homework involving Google. Still waiting to see how they respond.

More about Cui Jian and Nothing to My Name:

More songs for your KTV repertoire! (with lyrics and guitar chords):

Mr. China’s Son: A villager’s life

beijingliyi Mr. Chinas Son: A villagers lifeMr. China’s Son is a special book for a number of reasons. Unlike most of the other “scar literature” I’ve read so far (memoirs written by victims of the Mainland’s 20th century policies and society), which conveys the experiences of female, urban, educated, socially privileged victims, Mr. China’s Son was written in English by a Chinese peasant. Not only do we get a first-hand account of life at a time and level of Chinese society where most people didn’t have the ability to write their own stories, He Li-yi‘s English is unique. He writes many idioms and terms literally, giving the narrative a special flavour (“university” is “big-school,” for example). This, along with many quoted conversations and his surprisingly blunt honesty, makes the culture just shine through. He writes for English speakers, and each chapter contains footnotes that explain various details of the story. It’s great material if you’re interested in what it took for a regular guy and his family to survive the second half of China’s 20th century.

The author has a couple web address (owing to the difficulty in accessing them in the Mainland), which are an extension of his desire to be a “cultural bridge.” I especially encourage you to click around this one; it’s got to be one of the most charming places in the whole internet:

Several parts of the website are worth checking out. The reader response Q&A section displays some of his remarkable and disarming honesty. Some samples:

7. How did your experience during the CR influence your life after it was over?
After the CulturaI RevoIution, I became very nervous about political affairs. I no longer believed people. I always kept silence in all kinds of meetings, and didn’t want to express my thoughts directly. I taught my two sons to think over everything again and again before speaking out. Above all, I would not allow my sons and grandsons to rebuild our old house in the village into a very modern one, I told them to keep it poor looking, just repair it, but don’t sell it.

8. Did you see anything positive come out of the ten years of oppression?
Yes, there are three things: (1) People realized that relationships between family members are extremely weak. (2) People realized that to faithfully run after somebody great might not result in a good end. (3) People realized that the poor-and-lower class is by no means great.

I also see three negative things. (1) People became poorer; (2) People do not trust each other, (3) Many people became more selfish.

10.Did you ever feel that there were times when you had to compromise what you believed during the revolution? If so, what made you keep your faith in your morals and beliefs?
Yes, at that time, only if I could manage to live on and on, then I would compromise anything. If I refused to compromise, then the only way out was TO DIE. For a time, I had become a person who had forgotten ‘I had received a college-level education’. When I first heard some government workers came to apologize, I thought people were making fun of me again. I thought they wanted to fool me again.

At that time, I compromised because I wanted to be alive. I believed: “If I could keep the mountains green, no need to worry about ‘no firewood to cook’. ” Later, facts proved those who refused to compromise were struggled to death or committed suicide. Luckily I compromised. A wise leader (Mr. Deng) appeared in Beijing. I was able to become a teacher, and be able to write a book to tell the world what had happened in China.

11. What values of today do you see replacing that of yesterday? How do you feel about these values?
After 1979, an economic construction began in a BIG WAY. The result was: CHINA HAS BECOME STRONGER AND STRONGER, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, EVERY BODY RAN AFTER MONEY. Some people earned (made) money through hard work, but some became rich NOT from hard work. The situation looked like we did almost everything in a CRAZY WAY. In other words, in whatever we did, we did TO EXCESS. I don’t think this is the correct way of solving problems. I hope our next generation will learn a lesson from our history. What we must do is to try our level best to avoid, get rid of ‘ TOO CRAZY’! If we keep on doing everything in a TOO CRAZY way, new problems will certainly appear again.

(The author’s other links are here and here.)