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Reflecting on 皇后大道东 (Queen's Road East)
mom walk
amw
I have been incredibly busy at work the past couple of weeks and i am completely exhausted. Two more days till things go back to normal, maybe i will write a real entry.

Instead i will post my favorite Chinese song of all time. It's called 皇后大道东 aka Queen's Road East.



Queen's Road West, also Queen's Road East
Queen's Road East, turns into Queen's Road Central
On Queen's Road East, why is there no palace?
On Queen's Road Central, people surge like the tide

There's a wellborn friend on the flip side of the coin
Young and never changing, she's just called the queen
She follows every time i pay, everywhere i go
Her face is expressionless, but together we succeed

Our close friend says bye, now off to leave this town
We lean on great comrades to set up new ideas
Buy/sell off-plan property, work units everywhere
Although it may be that Mong Kok gets renamed

This righteous friend is both virtuous and warm
Because she allows races to run twice a week
Naturally the common man must struggle to the end
Seems like foreign citizens only need be rich

Our close friend says bye, now off to leave this town
We lean on great comrades to set up new ideas
Hot and cold climates also impact this town
But changing of the season depends on one figure

This pretty friend says bye, goodbye beautiful
Every night the TV screens continue the old tune
On that day we'll celebrate, everyone will clap
On the coin that face'll change to a martyr monument

Our close friend says bye, now off to leave this town
We lean on great comrades to set up new ideas
There'll be trains, buses and taxis too
But which route will they go?

This song is very difficult to translate. Everywhere i translated "she" or "we" i'm adding my own twist. There are no pronouns in the lyrics. There is also very little indication of future or past tense. Chinese does have pronouns and ways to indicate when something happened, but they're optional, so text can be quite open for interpretation. In addition, the song is in Cantonese, which obviously i cannot speak, so my interpretation is a Mandarin-biased reading.

One fragment i think is hilarious is the phrase i translated as "foreign citizens", which in the original text is "big country citizens". Does "big country" mean England or mainland China? Or just anywhere outside of Hong Kong?

I feel like the whole song is a Rorschach test. It's very popular in the mainland, probably because it's superficially a celebration of Communists coming to liberate the proletariat from foreign aristocrats and evil capitalists... But let's be real - there is nothing serious about the sycophantic praise of friends in high places. Someone brought up outside mainland China surely can't fail to see it as a satirical parallel to the kind of speech cadres are expected to affect to puff up party leadership.

There are some other funny puns and wordplay here.

Queen's Road West/East/Central is a major road in Hong Kong. But the "queen" of Queen's Road is translated as 皇后 in Chinese, which means imperial consort. Later on when the song refers to a palace, it is asking "why is there no imperial palace?"

Central also has a double meaning. Central is 中, which is also the first character in 中国 - China, aka Central Country or "Middle Kingdom". In the song, Queen's Road Central is phrased in such a way that it sounds a bit like "Queens Road, China".

A reference i am perhaps too young to get is the one about Mong Kok changing its name. Mong Kok literally translated is Prosperous Corner (旺角). Historically it was considered a sketchier part of Hong Kong, with street markets and massage parlors and dark money. I'm not sure if the song is talking about real estate agents rebranding seedy areas to make them seem more exclusive, or respectable cops driving out the triads, or if it's a more general joke about prosperity being un-Communist.

Maybe it's only a Rorschach song to non-native speakers listening to it 30 years later.

One thing that is clear is that the "route" in the last line doesn't just mean a bus route. 路线 very much also means a political line, i.e. right or left wing. To me the lyrics to this piece sound timely as ever.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
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There was an Imperial cinema just off Queens Road East. I watched Ghostbusters there with all my classmates. 😆


This just makes me want to post the Japanese Ghostbusters trailer i found on Bilibili (Chinese social media). Here it is on Youtube.


Haha. That’s better than the original.

Your posts are teaching me another language :)

Thanks for sharing! It's my first time hearing it, and it is really interesting so I went to do some research on it.

The same composer actually wrote another song,東方之珠, also about HK, that I listened to growing up, and quite enjoy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRG919KG4vc

It is kinda interesting comparing the songs because both songs were written around the same period in the 1990s, and are are reflective of the political times then (and considered political by mainland. 皇后大道东 was banned in mainland for a while )-
皇后大道东 was about the fears of the Hong Kongers about the British leaving and the Chinese coming in to take over the city, tinged with sarcastic tones. 東方之珠 on the other hand, has a more emotional tone about HK having been through so much and finally returning to China~

I added an interpretation of the song i found online along with mine, into your translation (which was done really well!!)~


There's a wellborn friend (the British) on the back of the coin of the coin
Young and never changing, she's called the queen (referring to HK cash)
She follows every time i pay, everywhere i go
Her face is expressionless, but together we succeed

Our close friend (the British) says bye, now off to leave this town
We lean on great comrades (the mainlanders) to set up new ideas
(Mainlanders) Buy/sell off-plan property, work units everywhere (depriving HKers of properties)
Although it may be that Mong Kok gets renamed (perhaps the most proposerous place may be gone too)

The righteous friend (the communist) is both virtuous and warm
Because she allows races to run twice a week (allowing one country two systems )
Naturally the common man (the local HKers) must struggle to the end (migrate quickly)
Seems like foreign citizens only need be rich (to move to Britain)

Our close friend says bye, now off to leave this town
We lean on great comrades to set up new ideas
Hot and cold climates (Mainland-British settlement) also impact this town
But changing of the season (changing of the political powers) will require people with super powers (since there are no people with super powers, the chance is low)

This is an awesome reply, thank you!! I had a feeling the "righteous friend" was supposed to refer the CPC, but i went back and forth because in the video clip it still shows the queen in that verse.

It's interesting that this song was banned in mainland, because nowadays it is reasonably popular. Although come to think of it i never heard it outside bars and KTV, so perhaps it's a bit more of an "underground" hit. Censorship over here works in a strange way, where things don't really get banned outright, they just sort of disappear from the mainstream media.

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