Friday, June 03, 2005

the great wall

This is a Great Wall and only a great people with a great past could have a great wall and such a great people with such a great wall will surely have a great future.

Richard M. Nixon

taken from the video for 'cheung sing' - shot while they were recording in japan

june the 4th is almost upon us, sixteen years on from tianamen (notice the debate about wikipedia's entry). political arrests are still occuring. right now, beyond is holding concerts in china as part of their farewell tour, but many years ago they were banned from the country because of this song (the link for the mp3 is on the 'music' menu).

i've chosen to write about the beyond song 'great wall' (cheung sing), because i believe as much as it debunks the myth of a great civilisation and a man-made wonder, i believe the underlying meaning is of a government that continues to oppress and deceive its people, continuing the suffering signified by the wall.

the great wall, is of course the great wall of china. it was built and rebuilt over the centuries by several dynasties, starting from 208BC. but the precursor to the modern wall is attributed to the first emperor of china, qin shihuang. my impression was originally that the wall was constructed by a person obsessed with power and paranoid of invaders, and indeed he is often portrayed as a tyrant (but on the other hand in zhang yimou's film 'hero' he is depicted as a admirable man and a patriot).

the wall was intended to keep invaders out from the north, but as it was built in sections, it may have not been so difficult to transgress. and as this traveler notes, it is only more recently that parts have been reconstructed and joined together.

another myth is that the great wall is the only man-made object that can be seen from the moon, which has been revealed to be untrue.

the song 'cheung sing' appeared on the 1992 album 'continue the revolution' as the opening track. the song was composed by wong ka kui, with lyrics by gene lau (lau cheuk fai). i have to wonder if the lyrics were all lau's invention, or if beyond provided the original idea. either way, it was brave to record such a political song. there are three versions of the song: cantonese, mandarin and japanese (i am unsure as to the content of the japanese lyrics).

with thanks to cyrus chiu, here is an english translation of the lyrics (unicode optional):

Great Wall

遙遠的東方 遼闊的邊疆
In the far far east, there is a vastly extensive frontier

And also an ancient ruined wall.

前世的滄桑 後世的風光
With many adversities in the past and a glory for the future,

This wall is closely knitted along a thousand hills.

It encloses an aging country;

It encloses a true story;

It encloses a long history;

圍着慾望與理想 (叫嚷)
It encloses desires and ideals (cries).

迷信的村莊 神秘的中央
Superstitious villages, a mysterious Central

And also a battlefield of yesterday.

皇帝的新衣 熱血的纓槍
The Emperor’s new clothes, the hot-blooded spears,

None was willing to wander around the frontier.

Covering up the ears,

Hear no more the cries of people over there on that day.

Woo Ah-Woo Ah-Ah-Ah

Covering up the eyes,

See once more the scar that we once respected.

Woo Ah-Woo Ah-Ah-Ah

It remains there on the crust of the earth.

無冕的身軀 忘我的思想
A body without a crown, a selfless thought,

And also an illustrious ruined wall.

誰也衝不開 誰也拋不低
None can break through it or leave it behind.

None is willing to lead a vagrant life.

briefly, i believe the 'cries' can refer to the dead workers - it has been said that the wall carries the remains of some of the many labourers who died whilst working on this colossal project, as the sense of urgency was so great that there was no time to stop for the weak, and no time for a burial. do you remember when david copperfield "walked through" the great wall of china? (according to the imdb, it was 1986) i wonder if he saw their bones lining the wall?

the song can also read as a testament to the events that occured in tianamen square in 1989. the government continues to deny that there was ever a crackdown, or reports the casualties as fewer than there actually were ('covering up the ears', 'covering up the eyes').

'body without a crown', 'the emperor's new clothes' and 'the superstitious village' can refer to the time of the qin dynasty and its historically regarded power mad emperor, but can equally be a reference to the communist party.

and more directly, that the great wall of china is not a monument of human achievment, but as a 'scar' upon the civilisation of china that should not be celebrated as glorious ('scar that we once respected'), but as a recognition of the suffering and mistakes of the past.

regarding the mandarin version of the song, as far as i can tell, they have transposed the same phrasing and meaning in the lyrics, which are credited to a different person. the video (made in taiwan for rock records) leaves nothing to the imagination about what beyond are yelling about. imperial guards spear each other, members of the people's liberation army fire at each other. terracotta warriors (a legacy of the qin dynasty) appear in the video, overlaid with the angry faces of the band.

my distaste for the chinese government was growing ever since i had seen those pictures on the news of the tanks in the square (our australian prime minister at the time, bob hawke, even shed tears publicly for the students). i was nine when it happened, but i could never regard china with the cultural naivety of a child looking upon her origins again.


At June 08, 2005 5:53 PM, Blogger Artkruger Letchmi said...

Hey... another nice entry...
Going to read up about the tian an men sq happenings.

Btw, where can i d/l the chinese version of Chang Cheng chinese version MV?

At June 11, 2005 12:00 AM, Blogger rachael said...

mmmm, don't know if you can find it online, but i guess winmx or something similar is worth a go.

i got it from the vcd that came with the 'beyond files' compilation released by rock records a while ago.

i'd put it up for you to dl but i'm on dialup... :(


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