amw (amw) wrote,

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Reflecting on 皇后大道东 (Queen's Road East)

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.
Tags: china, music

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