China-focused Satire, Social Commentary, Comics and More

In the Shadow of the Great Wall

Totally Awesome Picture of the week 52

“Makin it civilized, makin it fine, oh, we’re building a wall, so they can knock down mine!”

– verse one of the contemporary workers tune Ode to the Hutongs

A renaissance of blue-collar work-related musical creativity seems to be occurring throughout China. “Along with spreading capitalistic tendencies for hording excessive resources has arrived an architecture boom,” said Ding Dong, a local expert on everything. “Boom! Boom! Boom! Goes the houses! Boom! Boom Boom! Goes my room!” he explained quoting a popular song from the Yangtze river delta. As if to clarify, he grabbed a neighbor’s loose chicken, chopped off its head with the cleaver his daughter was using to clean old cement off a brick, and inserted a small slug of dynamite. “Boom,” he said, watching neighborhood children as they ran gleefully through the rain of feathers as though it were a sprinkler on a warm summer day.

While Ding Dong may be quick to display his interpretation of a song, he, like most of his social class, is hesitant to criticize. When asked if he was upset to lose his home he quoted an older song from the industrial city of Shenzhen, “Down comes the nest where my children grew, a place used by many but meant for few.” He finished, spat a glob of green mucus into the gutter and shuffled off down the street, away from the chicken’s screeching owner, who brandished a cleaver of her own.

As most of the creative developments in China over the past few centuries, the new proletariat music culture directly mirrors that of one from recent history in the west.

“Some songs, such as Ode to the Hutongs, (quoted earlier) do reflect Chinese culture to an extent; however, the fact that performers insist to accompany with steel slide guitar and to label the genre lan se yinyue – or blue color music – demonstrate the true lack of creativity,” said professor Jones, former head of the Chingrish department at the University of Cultural Preservation, which was leveled last week to make room for an indoor theme park called Diznee Rand.

“Most songs, such as Baby, Prease don’t Qu are direct copies of American classics with one word changed into its Chinese equivalent and a phonetic misspelling or two. Other songs are more a blatant pastiche of many western tunes. Suzanna’s Been Working on the Prison Break is a good example of this. The celebrated emergence of new music culture is really little more than KTV without the words or background muzak. Any creative changes are just mistakes, or misremembering,” explained professor Jones as I walked him to the train station. Though he’d lived in China for nearly a decade, I notice he carried only a small satchel. “The quality of the stuff they make is the same as that of their music,” he answered quizzically.

“This rand is ord rand, this rand is sord rand” he sang out as a flood of migrants swept him toward the platform.

“Woody Guthrie?” I asked, recognizing something in the pattern of professor Jone’s lyrics.

“No! The GuoRi Wodi Minority!”

I found myself nodding along to the tune. As I exited the station I gave a kuai to the legless blind gourd flute player who had picked up the melody.

“Hen hao” I told him as my coin clinked into his tin cup.

“Thanks,” he responded with a wink.

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