Labor of Love by Andrew Peterson in Chinese

Have you never wondered: No room at the inn? Why are they even looking for a place? Mary and Joseph would have traveled with a pile of other relatives to Bethlehem where they had even more relatives because it’s Joseph’s hometown. Yet they can’t find a place to stay? No one in Joseph’s extended family has room for a relative who’s ready to go into labour at any moment?

Chinese_no_room_at_the_inn

The scandal of Mary getting pregnant while she was still unmarried, and Joseph deciding to marry her anyway, is more than his family is willing to take. Joseph’s family has shunned them.

Mary most likely gave birth to Jesus much like this song suggests: on the cold ground of a dark cave where a stranger kept livestock, alone except for her (helpless) carpenter husband because his family wouldn’t take them in.

圣诞贺卡2015

We’re perennially desperate for Christmas music that isn’t awful. A few weeks ago friends recommended the album Behold the Lamb of God. Although I’m not a huge fan of the CCM genre or familiar with the music of singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson, I thought his song Labor of Love was worth translating into Chinese. It doesn’t attempt any great feats of lyricism; it simply but vividly connects people to the experience of Mary and Joseph the night she gave birth to Jesus in a way that Silent Night, with its tender and mild baby that doesn’t cry, doesn’t even try to do.

This is just a starter translation. It needs native speaker polishing before anyone really tries to sing it. But I want to put this out there and see if I can get some helpful suggestions. More notes on the translation below.

Hear it on Youtube here, here (live performance), and here (set to Nativity movie clips). Artist’s website: Andrew-Peterson.com

It was not a silent night 那夜并不平安
There was blood on the ground 鲜血洒在地面
You could hear a woman cry 女人的哭泣声声
In the alleyways that night 在这漆黑夜晚
On the streets of David’s town 在大卫城中回荡

And the stable was not clean 马厩也并不洁净
And the cobblestones were cold 鹅卵石冷冷冰冰
And little Mary full of grace 玛利亚恩典满满
With tears upon her face 泪水滑落脸庞
Had no mother’s hand to hold 没母亲握手相伴 [*]

It was a labor of pain 那是多么的痛
It was a cold sky above 在这寒冷夜空下
But for the girl on the ground in the dark 黑夜中躺着地上的女孩 [*]
With every beat of her beautiful heart 她的每一次心跳
It was a labor of love 都是爱的跳动 [**]

Noble Joseph at her side 忠实约瑟在身旁
Callused hands and weary eyes 粗糙的双手疲惫的双眼 [*]
There were no midwives to be found 在深夜里遍寻街头
In the streets of David’s town 却找不到一位
In the middle of the night 一位助产的人

So he held her and he prayed 抱着玛利亚祷告
Shafts of moonlight on his face 月光洒向他脸庞
But the baby in her womb 但她腹中的宝贝
He was the maker of the moon 就是月的创造者
He was the Author of the faith 就是有移山信心 [***]
That could make the mountains move 的的始创者

It was a labor of pain 那是多么的痛
It was a cold sky above 在这寒冷夜空下
But for the girl on the ground in the dark 但黑夜中这女孩
With every beat of her beautiful heart 她的每一次心跳
It was a labor of love 都是爱的跳动

For little Mary full of grace 恩典满满的玛利亚
With the tears upon her face 尽管泪水滑落脸庞
It was a labor of love 却是爱的劳作

TRANSLATION NOTES

[*] Details & Syllables:
The few people I bounced this off of struggled to squeeze all of the vivid details into the allotted syllables. In some cases they revised details out to make a better rhythmic fit. So “no mother’s hand to hold” became “no mother by her side” (妈妈却不在身边); Mary “the girl on the ground in the dark” became “the girl in the dark night” (黑夜中这女孩); and Joseph’s “callused hands and weary eyes” became “utterly exhausted” (早已疲惫不堪). I opted to retain the details above even though it’s not as smooth, because those details evoke imagery that powerfully conveys a lot of the story.

[**] The “labour of love” wordplay:
A Chinese friend recommended switching my literal translation of the “labour of love” wordplay (referencing the pain and effort of childbirth) for, “Her every single heartbeat is the beat of love” (她的每一次心跳 / 都是爱的跳动). To me that’s even cheesier than the original, but that’s also par for the course in China. And each person I talked to wasn’t satisfied with using 劳作 for “labor”, but no one had a better alternative.

[***] Everyone had trouble translating “the Author of the faith that can make the mountains move”.

More Chinese Christmas songs:

More English Christmas songs: Merry Christmas Music!

Patriotic Chinese Kindergarten Kungfu — lyrics & video for 精忠报国 by 屠洪纲

Our 4-year-old goes to an all-Chinese preschool, where I also teach. We’re the only foreigners. The 5 and 6-year-olds do this as a regular exercise routine:

It’s a song about complete devotion and loyalty to China, which in English could be “Dedication and Loyalty to the Country” or “Serve the Country with Utmost Loyalty”. The title is a reference to famous historical-mythical General Yue Fei’s tattoo. He was traitorously executed and posthumously has come to epitomize loyalty to China. The Wikipedia article is worth a read, as this song has all kinds of historical/cultural associations.

Here’s the mp3 and Chinese lyrics (mouseover for pronunciation!) with English translation (mostly someone else’s). Music videos here (youtube) and here (youku).

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报国 by 洪纲

狼烟江山
The fire beacon rises, look toward the rivers and mountains of the north

Dragons’ puffs and horses’ neighs are like blows of a frosted sword
黄河茫茫
Hearts as boundless as the water of the Yellow River
二十纵横
Who defies the length and breadth of the past twenty years?

Wild hatred where my sword points
多少手足
Countless brothers, loyal souls, bones buried in unfamiliar lands

What regret is it to die a hundred times protecting family and country?
叹惜无语血泪
Enduring sighs of regret, speechless, tears of blood fill the eyes
马蹄
Horses’ hooves go south, the people look toward the north
青黄飞扬
Toward the north the grass yellows, dust flying up
守土开疆
I’m willing to guard this territory and re-claim the land
堂堂中国四方
Grand China will make all sides bring tribute

Some interesting notes on this song here:

Many people in the west believe that Chinese are in general motivated by an irrational nationalism cultivated by the communist party to secure its political hold on the country. This is why some of the protests by Chinese nationals overseas have been labeled as “rebirth of the red guards”. Personally, I think this misunderstanding reflects a lack of knowledge about Chinese history, which in the thousand years past have been filled with foreign invasions and civil wars. We Chinese are peace lovers, but our own history has taught us that unification as a country, especially in the face of foreign threats has always been the prerequisite for a peaceful life.

This music video is by the singer Tu HongGang, who was trained as a Beijing opera singer, but turned into a pop singer in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The song is entitled 精忠报国, which translates to ‘dedication and loyalty to the country,’ or ‘serve the country with the utmost loyalty.’ The phrase by itself originates from the story of Yue Fei, “a famous Chinese patriot and military general who fought for the Southern Song Dynasty against the Jurchen armies of the Jin Dynasty. Since his political execution by the traitor Qin Hui, Yue Fei has evolved into the standard model of loyalty in Chinese culture.” According to legends, his mother tattooed these four characters across his back before he left home to join the army in 1122. More on his story can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yue_Fei

Note the first picture on the right, which shows the statue of Yue Fei, from the Yue Fei Mausoleum in Hangzhou. The four characters on his banner say, Huan Wo He Shan , or “Give back my rivers and mountains”.

I love the song (and the singer!) very much, I feel it echoes much of the patriotism which Chinese holds as part of our cultural identity.

More Chinese music (many with lyrics & guitar chords!):

Chinese New Year:

Christmas:

KTV!

So I’m in this Chinese girl band…

I’m not just a Chinese preschool rockstar; I now have a band. A girl band. A Chinese girl band. A Chinese girl band composed entirely of preschool teachers. And we are not above using the electric piano’s preprogrammed auto-chording rhythm feature thingy.

Working for a Chinese company gives opportunities to perform — and I mean like song-and-dance perform — that you typically don’t get at the average North American job. For example, at the year-end banquet it’s common for every department in a company to put on some sort of performance. Lots of singing along to pop tracks at the very least. It’s actually more of an obligation than an opportunity; it means bad vibes if you cry off participating.

Chinese love karaoke (KTV). They practice beforehand, and when they go they’ll easily stay for four, five or six hours singing the cheesiest pop lyrics and melodies you can imagine. And the practice shows. Have whatever stereotype of mild-mannered, bespectacled bookworm Chinese you want, but you haven’t seen China until you’ve seen said bespectacled office drones rocking out in a KTV lounge like they are the Chinese incarnation of Whitney Houston. It’s not what you’d expect from the impressions and stereotypes that float around, but in my experience the average Chinese tends to be less inhibited than the average cripplingly self-conscious and cool-anxious, irony-plagued North American when it comes to public performance.

Our school has a New Year’s Show, a Children’s Day Show, and a Teacher Show — those are the one’s I’ve discovered so far anyway. And it’s normal for teachers and parents to be involved in a couple performances even for the kids’ shows.

So here’s the song and lyrics some of my coworkers picked to cover for the Teacher Show (performed for the parents and grandparents of our 200+ students) — our first and most likely final performance. :)

相信 by


(Better quality version here.)

想飞上天和太阳肩并肩 / xiǎng fēishàng tiān hé tàiyáng jiānbìngjiān
Want to fly up to heaven and be shoulder to shoulder with the sun

世界等着我去改变/ shìjiè děngzhe wǒ qù gaibiàn
The world is waiting for me to go change (it)

想做的梦从不怕别人看见 / xiǎng zuòde mèng cóngbù pà biérén kànjiàn
Want to have a dream and not fear that other people will see

在这里我都能实现 / zài zhèlǐ wǒ dōu néng shíxiàn
Here I can achieve all of this

大声欢笑让你我肩并肩 / dàshēng huānxiào ràng nǐ wǒ jiānbìngjiān
Laughing loudly let us be should to shoulder

何处不能欢乐无限 / héchù bùnéng huānlè wúxiàn
Wherever there’s not infinite joy

抛开烦恼 勇敢的大步向前 / pāokāi fánnǎo yǒnggǎnde dàbù xiàngqián
Throw out worries, go forward with brave strides

我就站在舞台中间 / wǒ jiù zhàn zài wǔtái zhōngjiān
I just stand in the middle of the stage

[Chorus]

我相信我就是我,我相信明天 / wǒ xiāngxìn wǒ jiùshì wǒ, wǒ xiāngxìn míngtiān
I believe I’m me, I believe in tomorrow

我相信青春没有地平线 / wǒ xiāngxìn qīngchūn méiyǒu dìpíngxiàn
I believe youth has no horizon

在日落的海边,在热闹的大街 / zài rìluòde hǎibiān, zài rènǎode dàjiē
At the sun-setting seaside, on the bustling street

都是我心中最美的乐园 / dōu shì wǒ xīnzhōng zuìměide lèyuán
Both are the happiest paradise of my heart

我相信自由自在,我相信希望 / wǒ xiāngxìn zìyóuzìzài, wǒ xiāngxìn xīwàng
I believe in carefree freedom, I believe in hope

我相信伸手就能碰到天 / wǒ xiāngxìn shēnshǒu jiù néng pèngdào tiān
I believe you can stretch out your hand and reach heaven

有你在我身边 让生活更新鲜 / yǒu nǐ zài wǒ shēnbiān ràng shēnghuó gèng xīnxiān
Having you at my side makes life fresher

每一刻都精采万分,I do believe / měi yíkè dōu jīngcǎi wànfēn
Every moment is extremely splendid

Karaoke adventures:

Chinese songs to learn: