Back Story on the Chinese Rap Video

This is what the internet is for! It turns out that the campy video on "the increasingly popular Chinese language" that I mentioned recently, featuring the Taiwanese girl-group S.H.E., is so familiar a fixture in the Chinese blog world that it has spawned a biting parody, mocking the grandiose pretensions of its lyrics. The whole background to the story and the "KUSO" version of the song, from early this year, is on the China Hush site here. Thanks to a large diaspora of readers, first among whom was Alex Eisentraut, for the extra info.

In the original song, a refrain said that "the whole world is speaking Chinese." The leitmotif in the parody is, "the whole world is laughing at China being stupid." Sample lyrics this time:

All exports in exchange for dollars
US dollars depreciate in value greatly
Buy stocks and bonds
Simply cannot cash out....

The whole world is laughing at China being stupid
Selling rare earth minerals to foreigner at the same price as radishes
The whole world is laughing at China being stupid
The goods we deliver make the whole world praising us being so obedient
The whole world is laughing at China being stupid
The money we earn but store in someone else's home

The background makes this more interesting, and it also illustrates the contradictory currents always swirling in China. And for much more detailed parsing of the video and the ripples it created, a dispatch from reader JT of Berkeley, CA, below and after the jump. He writes:

The song is by a Taiwanese (in other words, not PRC) girl group called S.H.E. - imagine a Mandarin speaking version of the Spice Girls - and attracted no small amount of attention upon its release a few years back. The nativist trend in contemporary Taiwanese society and culture has strongly promoted the use of Taiwanese / Hoklo / Minnan, and so the fact that a popular pop group was championing the benefits of the world learning Chinese / Mandarin garnered negative publicity, with many assuming the group and its record company were sucking up to the Mainland and selling out Taiwan. For one English language news take:

For a video of the same girl group 'singing' a Taiwanese language song:
For whatever it's worth, the CCTV Lunar New Year 2008 performance, which is the biggest television event on the mainland featured the group and the song: (With at least one lyric change: "全世界都在講中國話 / the whole world is speaking Chinese" has become "好多外國人講中國話 / many foreigners are speaking Chinese"; go figure), suggesting tacit PRC support of the effort.

I think there are a number of issues that the whole affair touches upon:

- A trending assertiveness and pride in the growing numbers of those studying Chinese

- The fact that the words in the video are in Traditional Characters, and not Simplified (which I can testify was the case in numerous KTV joints in Beijing)

- The throwaway line at the end of the video, in which an individual of African descent asks a Chinese person directions, using Chinese, in what is unmistakably Shanghai (my coworkers especially loved this bit, perhaps because it seemed so strange to them)

- The political controversy that the song and video were perhaps attempting to allay: said girl group allegedly said they were "Taiwanese, not Chinese" in a 2005 interview, which I'm sure hurt their popularity on the mainland. Chinese language article here:
Taiwanese artists have been banned for performing for making such comments.

- My own personal favorite, the overall questions raised regarding what it means to be Chinese, and how that relates to language. This is especially interesting given the fact that Mandarin is so closely linked to global perceptions of "Chinese-ness" and yet so many "Chinese" have learned Mandarin as a second langage, with their home dialects as their mother tongue. This can be especially seen in the various translations of the phrase 'Zhong Guo Hua.' I've never heard the phrase tossed around in conversation, or even published anywhere. As I'm sure you know, Putonghua (standard speech) or Guoyu (national language) are what Chinese is commonly termed. Historically speaking, the phrase "Zhong Guo" itself, like the terms Putonghua and Guoyu, is a relatively recent construction, perhaps 120 years old. Indeed, even spoken Mandarin itself is 'younger' than most presume, which constitutes an interesting juxtaposition with the 'old' imagery presented in the video...