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:

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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):