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Thread: Lyrics to the theme song of TVB's BOOK & SWORD '76: racist?

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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Default Lyrics to the theme song of TVB's BOOK & SWORD '76: racist?

    I'm not sure which forum this thread best fits on, as it is partly Open Debate, partly Wuxia, partly TVB, and partly Music, so let me just put it here on the Wuxia Forum.

    TVB's first Jin Yong adaptation was BOOK & SWORD: GRATITUDE & REVENGE in 1976, starring Adam Cheng, Liza Wang, Gigi Wong, Lee See Kei, and others. It's remembered as a TVB classic.

    As always during those days, TVB commissioned composer Joseph Koo and lyricist Jim Wong to write the theme song of the series. The song, recorded in two versions (one by Adam Cheng and the other by the late Roman Tam), featured lyrics that are roughly translated into English thus:

    The heroes of the Red Flower Society's
    Crimson blood colors ten thousand years.
    Restoring our Han rivers and mountains.
    Vowing to destroy the Manchurian barbarians.


    That fourth stanza of the first verse is the problematic one. It expresses a desire to wipe out an entire race...genocide.

    That's honestly probably how the characters of the Red Flower Society actually felt towards the Manchurians. They hated these foreign invaders who had conquered their homeland and enslaved their people. This theme would be revisited in LOCH with Gwok Jing and the Juchen, in HSDS with the Chinese wulin and the Mongols, and in DGSD with the Chinese wulin and the Khitan.

    There was a certain amount of racism in the storylines among the characters, and the song lyrics merely reflect that. Even so, isn't that one line, although accurate to the themes of Jin Yong's novel, a bit extreme? Imagine a popular TV series or movie today with a theme song that sang about wiping out all Japanese or all Russians or all Muslims, or whatever. There would be (rightfully) an uproar.

    TVB's adaptations are popular in many places in Asia, including Manchuria. Imagine being a Manchurian person watching the TV series and hearing the theme song with a lyric glorifying the act of wiping out YOUR people. Would you still sing along?

    This song is definitely not very P.C.

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    Moderator Ren Wo Xing's Avatar
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    PC is a bunch of bullsith that only applies when people are fat, safe, and lazy :P. The Manchurians had invaded China, conquered the country, and, famously in Yangzhou particularly (as well as across other regions), massacred and butchered for ten days. Why wouldn't the Han want to eliminate the Manchurians?
    Last edited by Ren Wo Xing; 07-31-07 at 02:40 PM.
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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ren Wo Xing View Post
    PC is a bunch of bullsith :P
    Now you're sounding like Candide.

    For the most part, I agree: much of P.C. *is* people getting their panties into a twist about non-issues, but a popular TV theme song with a lyric that glorifies the killing of an entire race of people seems beyond the boundaries of good taste to me. I actually like this song overall, but that one part of the lyric really disturbs me.

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    Moderator Ren Wo Xing's Avatar
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    That's the whole point of the saying, "Ni si, wo huo"; you die, I live. Neither survival nor war have anything to do with PC, and as far as that time period went, so long as the Manchus lived, Han self-government and freedom would be dead.

    Honestly, though, even back in that time period, I really doubt anyone intended to 'wipe out' the Manchus; they'd be more than content to chase them back out of the country, back to 'barbarian lands'. Rhetoric is always grander and more stark than actual intentions.
    Last edited by Ren Wo Xing; 07-31-07 at 02:48 PM.
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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ren Wo Xing View Post
    That's the whole point of the saying, "Ni si, wo huo"; you die, I live. Neither survival nor war have anything to do with PC, and as far as that time period went, so long as the Manchus lived, Han self-government and freedom would be dead.

    I really doubt anyone intended to 'wipe out' the Manchus; they'd be more than content to chase them back out of the country. Rhetoric is always grander and more stark than actual intentions.
    My problem with the lyric, however, is not so much what it reflected in history (which was probably accurate) or what it reflected in the Jin Yong novel (which was definitely accurate), but that it was considered acceptable in the context of a popular song in the 1970s. If one really were a Han Chinese living during the 18th Century and facing enslavement by a foreign people, such sentiments are completely understandable and perhaps, to some degree, even acceptable. It's very different, however, when considering such sentiments as *entertainment* for 1970s Chinese living in Hong Kong...not threatened by any Manchurian people at all.

    None of us are innocent of this, I suppose, because when we're rooting for our Han Chinese wuxia heroes while reading the novels or watching the adaptations, we're basically celebrating their slaughter of foreign-born warriors. The lyric of that theme song, however, kind of crystallizes the controversy very succinctly. Any way you look at it, that one line represents a seriously hateful thing to say...way more hateful than one would expect in the theme song of a popular TV series.

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    Moderator Ren Wo Xing's Avatar
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    Overly analytical, buddy. The entire point of a series/movie is to get the viewer engrossed in it as much as possible; to make the emotions of the people/protagonist, that of the viewer; the entire point of a theme song is to give birth and be a 'poster' for the major themes of a story.

    Book and Sword is a novel about fighting against and trying to expel the Manchus; it is an anti-Manchu story. The song is an anti-Manchu song, in the CONTEXT of the story. Pretty open and shut case AFAIC.

    As for those sentiments being entertainment, well, violent sentiments have always been entertainment, especially in historical wars et. al. No one really cares about Manchus (who have mostly been assimilated into the Han Chinese population anyhow); what people care about are the fictional Manchus in a fictional novel, who are oppressing, killing, and occupying the people/heroes of the movies.

    If this was in any other context, you might have a case. In the context of a fictional historical novel about fighting against Manchus, you think it's hateful?! Well, yeah, it is, because it's supposed to be hateful against the Manchus...of four centuries ago!

    Last edited by Ren Wo Xing; 07-31-07 at 03:05 PM.
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    Senior Member mawguy's Avatar
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    ditto ren wo xing -- it's a matter of context. this is a theme song for a tv series whose theme is xenophobia and resistance against foreign oppression, so naturally, there's racist comments/feelings involved.
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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ren Wo Xing View Post
    Overly analytical, buddy. The entire point of a series/movie is to get the viewer engrossed in it as much as possible; to make the emotions of the people/protagonist, that of the viewer; the entire point of a theme song is to give birth and be a 'poster' for the major themes of a story.

    Book and Sword is a novel about fighting against and trying to expel the Manchus; it is an anti-Manchu story. The song is an anti-Manchu song, in the CONTEXT of the story. Pretty open and shut case AFAIC.
    It works all right in Hong Kong or China, I suppose, where P.C. is a pretty foreign concept anyway (I think most Chinese think Western concepts of political correctness to be silly and naive, but that's a whole other discussion). I'm pretty sure an analogous song lyric wouldn't fly in the U.S. without somebody somewhere getting up in arms about it. I could not, for example, conceive of an American TV series or movie with a theme song whose lyrics celebrate killing British troops, Confederates, Native Americans, Spaniards, Germans, Japanese, Russians, Vietnamese, or Iraqis. There would be outrage.

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    Moderator Ren Wo Xing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    It works all right in Hong Kong or China, I suppose, where P.C. is a pretty foreign concept anyway (I think most Chinese think Western concepts of political correctness to be silly and naive, but that's a whole other discussion). I'm pretty sure an analogous song lyric wouldn't fly in the U.S. without somebody somewhere getting up in arms about it. I could not, for example, conceive of an American TV series or movie with a theme song whose lyrics celebrate killing British troops, Confederates, Native Americans, Spaniards, Germans, Japanese, Russians, Vietnamese, or Iraqis. There would be outrage.
    When was the last time America was occupied by a foreign power, and its cities and population butchered?

    Actually, for that matter, when was the last time Americans watched a historical TV series anyhow? :P

    Completely non-parallel situations in every regard, IMHO.
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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ren Wo Xing View Post
    When was the last time America was occupied by a foreign power, and its cities and population butchered?

    Actually, for that matter, when was the last time Americans watched a historical TV series anyhow? :P

    Completely non-parallel situations in every regard, IMHO.
    Hmmm. All right. Let's try this:

    A number of popular rap songs by African-American rappers such as Ice-T and Ice Cube discussed such subjects as celebrating the killing of white police officers whom, from the rappers' point of view, represented the brutal white American oppression of African-American youth. These rap recordings were very popular during the 1990s, but they also generated their share of controversy. Half the people (the supporters of the rap) argued that the lyrics merely reflected the reality of the African-American experiences, whereas the music's objectors argued that they were odes to murder.

    It's not exactly the same situation, but there is some degree of comparison there.

    In either case, I'm personally uncomfortable with murderous lyrics in songs regardless of whom the victim is.

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    In a somewhat related note, the famous poem attributed to Yue Fei, Man Jiang Hong (The River Runs Red) featured a pretty extreme line:

    壯志飢餐胡虜肉,笑談渴飲匈奴血。

    Loosely translated to "We'll celebrate by feasting on the meat and drinking the blood of the barbarians."

    Which seems rather extreme to us now, but I think cannibalism of one's enemies was celebrated back then, even to the cultured Han people.
    明月心跳起來,又回頭,嫣然道,你還要不要我帶上那面具?
    傅紅雪冷道,現在你臉上豈非已經戴上了個面具?

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    Moderator kidd's Avatar
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    I don't think there is any problem with the line. It correlates with the story of Book & Sword. The story is anti-Manchu, so, the song is also anti-Manchu.

    Also, this is a themesong of a wuxia series, where there are lots of killing and slaughtering. Good and bad people, villains and heroes, all jave blood in their hands. The lyrics in the themesong just complement the series.

    That line just describe the sentiment of the oppressed Hans (whose land has been taken from them) during that time.

    See the lyrics according to the context of the series, not according to the context of the PC world we live in nowadays. The lyrics is supposed to describe the series.
    什麼是朋友?朋友永遠是在你犯下不可原諒錯誤的時候,仍舊站在你那邊的笨蛋。~ 王亞瑟

    和諧唔係一百個人講同一番話,係一百個人有一百句唔同嘅說話,而又互相尊重 ~ - 葉梓恩

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    Senior Member PJ's Avatar
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    Well, if you interpret the line literally, then yeah, it sounds genocidic. Probably though it can be interpreted differently in the context. The preceding line speaks of restoring the Han to supremacy, so the line "Vowing to destroy the Manchurian barbarians" should be rephrased to reflect its actual meaning which I think is "Vowing the destroy the Manchurian ruling power [and maybe kill a lot of innocent Manchurians along the way, but the important part is that they are driven out of their ruling power]."
    忽见柳荫下两个小孩子在哀哀痛哭,瞧模样正是武敦儒、武修文兄弟。郭芙大声叫道:「喂,你们在干甚麽?」武 修文回头见是郭芙,哭道:「我们在哭,你不见麽?」

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    I don't see how a series depicting so much slaughter and bloodshed wouldn't bother you, but the lyrics of a song from the said series does? When GJ and co vow to eradicate the Mongolians to take back their lands, they are clearly talking about slaughtering and killing them, I don't see much of a difference. If it's okay to hear the words being said, why is singing them any different?

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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tape View Post
    I don't see how a series depicting so much slaughter and bloodshed wouldn't bother you, but the lyrics of a song from the said series does? When GJ and co vow to eradicate the Mongolians to take back their lands, they are clearly talking about slaughtering and killing them, I don't see much of a difference. If it's okay to hear the words being said, why is singing them any different?
    Because one is a wuxia story, which necessitates it, and the other is a pop song, which doesn't. The wuxia story *has* to tell the story of the war between the Han and the Manchurians, but the lyric of the theme song could have focused on some other aspect of the novel...or worded it differently as to be less offensive to Manchurians. For example, "we'll defeat our enemies" would sound much less offensive than "destroy the Manchurian barbarians."

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    That song is first and foremost a themesong of B & S, written for the series. So, it just makes sense that the song reflect the sentiment of the series, the sentiment of its main characters.

    Also, I think the Manchurians will be sensible enough to know that this is a themesong of a TV series and the content talks about event that happen waaaaay back in the past (if not fictional). I'm sure they won't be offended.

    So, any good replacement phrase in chinese for this offensive phrase you can think of, Ken? Remember that it need to rhyme with the rest of the lyrics.
    Last edited by kidd; 08-01-07 at 02:50 AM.
    什麼是朋友?朋友永遠是在你犯下不可原諒錯誤的時候,仍舊站在你那邊的笨蛋。~ 王亞瑟

    和諧唔係一百個人講同一番話,係一百個人有一百句唔同嘅說話,而又互相尊重 ~ - 葉梓恩

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    Because one is a wuxia story, which necessitates it, and the other is a pop song, which doesn't. The wuxia story *has* to tell the story of the war between the Han and the Manchurians, but the lyric of the theme song could have focused on some other aspect of the novel...or worded it differently as to be less offensive to Manchurians. For example, "we'll defeat our enemies" would sound much less offensive than "destroy the Manchurian barbarians."
    It is a themesong, and the point of the themesong is to exhibit what the series would be about, and enhance the feeling of watching the series. It is not a random pop song sung out of nowhere written by some random artist. The series is about how cruel Manchurians were and the want for the people to kill them and drive them out of their lands. Singing about that is nowhere in the wrong. Guo Jing and co could also have worded it different to say "we'd like to recover our lands" or something, but in order to embody the spirit of the people, they have to mention slaughtering the enemy also.

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    Moderator Ken Cheng's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kidd View Post
    So, any good replacement phrase in chinese for this offensive phrase you can think of, Ken? Remember that it need to rhyme with the rest of the lyrics.
    No idea. I just feel that if I were at a karaoke somewhere singing along to this tune, I'd be a bit uncomfortable if I knew or even suspected that there might be a Manchurian person present. It'd be a little like singing a song with the "N"-word in it if there were people of African descent present.

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    Senior Member Ian Liew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Cheng View Post
    No idea. I just feel that if I were at a karaoke somewhere singing along to this tune, I'd be a bit uncomfortable if I knew or even suspected that there might be a Manchurian person present. It'd be a little like singing a song with the "N"-word in it if there were people of African descent present.
    Maybe it would sound much better as "Manchu invaders" rather than "Manchu barbarians". Manchu barbarians, invaders, dogs, demons etc.. they're all the same thing in that context. I don't think it meant genocide, merely the destruction of those occupying China.

    We hardly read about Manchu civilians in any wuxia after all, so it probably just means the military.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Liew View Post
    Maybe it would sound much better as "Manchu invaders" rather than "Manchu barbarians". Manchu barbarians, invaders, dogs, demons etc.. they're all the same thing in that context. I don't think it meant genocide, merely the destruction of those occupying China.

    We hardly read about Manchu civilians in any wuxia after all, so it probably just means the military.
    I think the main problem that Ken Cheng stated was with the desire to wipe out the entire race.

    I don't think the Manchurians would be too offended. After all, it's just the theme song of a series which would be 'racist' if viewed your way. How many characters in there will be desiring to wipe out the Manchurians? They probably won't have too big of a reaction, if there's even any.

    If the same scenario presented itself to me, I would probably just ignore it.

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