In my last post, I recalled the Chinese version of Auld Lang Syne, commonly sung at graduation assemblies and funerals. Now, I’m going to share with you an original Chinese farewell song, elegantly written as a poem in 1915 by the charismatic and talented artist, LI Shutong 李叔同 (1880 to 1942), three years before he abandoned all worldly desires to become a Buddhist monk. This classical song with shared Chinese symbols is also often top choice for graduation assemblies.
LI Shutong, as Buddhist monk, is famously known as Master Hong Yi. The timeless appeal of this song, Farewell, has connected the Chinese people across the globe. The tune of the song is adapted from “Dreaming of Home and Mother,” composed by John Pond Ordway in 1868.
Please listen to this song, and try to picture in your mind the images of long pavilion as a departure place, gentle wind caressing the willow, Chinese flute faintly playing in the background, enchanting sunset, with a glass of murky wine in your hand (Jack Daniels would be lovely).
- 长亭外，古道边，芳草碧连天 Outside the long pavilion, near the ancient road, splendid grass connects to the sky.
- 晚风拂柳笛声残，夕阳山外山 Breezy evening wind caresses the willows. The sound of flute faltering, the setting sun sits beyond many a mountain.
- 天之涯，海之角，知交半零落 Friends have scattered to the reaches of heaven and the ends of the sea, with only very few left.
- 一瓢浊酒尽余欢，今宵别梦寒 Let’s enjoy this pot of murky wine to indulge ourselves in the remaining joy we have. Dreaming in the chilling night, I wave goodbye.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that every Chinese educated person can sing this song and is united in sadness and nostalgia.
This film, Memories of Peking: South Side Stories, is based on the true stories of one of the most remarkable Chinese writers, LIN Haiyin. This Farewell song by LI Shutong permeates this beautiful film.
Some people have a dramatic turning point in their life and their deeds transformed other people’s life. LI Shutong was just such a rare Chinese character. He was one of the pioneers in introducing western music and arts into China. Remarkably, he became the first Chinese educator to use nude models.
When China was closed and inward-looking, with passion, LI Shutong introduced western arts and literature, including drama, music, painting and modern education to enlighten the people.
It is only appropriate that LI Shutong was deemed the Renaissance man in modern Chinese cultural history. This remarkable man, and a revered monk, was influential in all facets of cultural development in China. This classical Farewell song is only one of his many great legacies. I consider myself lucky to have learnt this song as a very small child, to be consumed by its all-powerful images, and my love and comprehension for this song grows the older
and wiser I become.
Memories of Peking: South Side Stories (translated into English)
Chinese University Press, 2002 - 303 pages
Memories of Old Peking portrays the adult world in Peking of the 1930s as seen through the eyes of a little girl. The five sequential stories in the book are well constructed in terms of theme and character development and, as such, can be read as a novel.
The stories differ greatly from many other books on life in China, whether they are about the olden times or the present day, in that they do not dwell on politics, nor do they try to make any statements regarding set beliefs of any kind.
The stories are simple and direct. Through the eyes and innocent mind of the child, we are let into her world and her feeling and cannot but be moved. The author is well known for her perception and humor, and both these qualities inform her stories.
The sense of loss and bewilderment which arouses the child’s awareness of the uncertainties of human relationships, even of life itself, and which finally catapults the child away from childhood joys into the sorrows of the adult world is handled with great sensitivity and lyricism.