Lang lang, the lyrics of "my motherland," and cross-cultural communication
Lang Lang, the lyrics of "my motherland," and cross-cultural communication
Posted January 27, 2011
After Lang Lang's piano performance of the melody "My Motherland" at the White House in front of President Obama and Chinese President Hu last week, some politicians, reporters and opportunists have accused him of playing an "anti-American" music piece, because the song first appeared in a 1956 Chinese movie about the Korean war and the lyrics are politically incorrect (even though he only played the melody). To my dismay, most of the accusers have never read the lyrics and their reactions are based on incomplete or false information.
Since 1956, the song "my motherland" has remained very popular among Chinese people, not because it was related to the movie, but because the messages of the lyrics reflect the deep affection for homeland and the melody is gorgeous. The lyrics are about the desire for peace, not war. The complete translation is as follows:
The complete lyrics of "My motherland" (1956).
Lyrics by Qiao Yu; Melody by Liu Zhi
"A big river with wide waves
Wind blows rice flowers to spread fragrance across the banks.
My family lives on the shore,
Got used to the chant of steersmen, and
to seeing white sails on board
This is a beautiful country
Is the place where I grew up.
In this vast land
Beautiful scenery everywhere
Girls are like flowers
Young men have broad mind and shoulders,
In order to break new ground
Wake up the sleepy mountain
Let the rivers change their appearance
This is the heroic country
Is the place where I grew up,
In this ancient land
The strength of youth everywhere
Good mountains, good water, good places
All roads are wide and spacious
if friends come, there is a good wine
If jackal has come, it is greeted with hunting gun
This is a powerful country
Is the place where I grew up,
In this land of warmth,
Peaceful sunshine everywhere"
In the movie, the song is sung with the background of landscapes and construction sides in China. I think that the messages in the lyrics are universally accepted. They can be applied to any country in the world. Apparently, the lyrics were accused by some politicians and reporters as the "anti-American" or "communist propaganda," because the following sentences: "If friends come, there is a good wine; if jackal comes, it is greeted with hunting gun." These sentences actually come from an ancient Chinese proverb, which existed hundreds of years long before the song was written. Yes, jackal could refer to the enemy during the war. On the other hand, is there anyone in any country of the world who disagrees with the statements?
Ironically, this song and its melody were banned during the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) in China, and the lyrics were accused as expressing "erotic" sentiments (e.g., girls are like flowers) and the melody was accused as too "capitalist." A scholar in Vancouver, B.C. recently recalled that one of his friends, a young girl who secretly sang the song was severely reprimanded at that time. Additionally, the composer Liu Zhi was sent to engage in hard labor in countryside, and he was put on the list of most dangerous people by Jiang Qing, Mao's wife, who controlled the art and literature fields in China during that period.
I think that Lang Lang's mistake was that he failed to understand the sensitive nature of any international events. Good intended gestures are often misconstrued by people with good intentions, let alone there are many politically motivated opportunists/exploiters here and there who try to grab all occasions to advance their personal agenda by twisting easily misunderstood communications.