Sinister S.H.E

Is it just me or are the lyrics to this rather tacky pop song a bit suspect?

People of every skin colour, People with hair of every colour
What they’re reading, what they’re saying,
Chinese is becoming the new trend

How many years did we painstakingly practise English pronunciation and learn their grammar?
For a change, now it’s their turn to get their tongues all in a knot
How smart the Chinese are! And how beautiful our language is!

The whole world is learning Chinese
Confucius’ words are becoming world culture
Our language makes the people of the world listen up

The first question this raises is exactly who in the world is learning Chinese other than a handful of businessmen and language students at university. An audacious statement perhaps but doesn’t quite represent the whole world to my mind, although they got the part about it being a ludicrously difficult language to learn correct!

Aside from being a little naive what’s perhaps more worrying is that this was one of the main performances at the 2008 Chinese New Year gala broadcast on CCTV (the state-controlled TV network in China). If there was ever a subtle way to try and get your message across about intentions of world domination then this sure isn’t it!

Ironically the group (S.H.E) are from Taiwan and was formed in a talent contest, rather than having any artistic ideals.

David avatar

15 responses

  1. danny avatar

    While English is today an important language, Chinese language, history and culture continues to be a fascinating discipline, which remains at the forefront of our changing world. You said it! We has to admit it is significant to learn Chinese if we want to be international.

  2. I'd never disagree that it's a good endeavor to learn a foreign language other than English but I seriously doubt the whole world will be speaking Chinese any time soon.

    Well done for plugging your business! haha

  3. First of all, I have been reading your blog and love it. Good job.

    I lived in China for 20+ years as a native speaker. I can tell the message of the song is being read and interpreted very differently when it is translated into English, which is understandable. (When Chinese lyrics are translated into English word by word, it doesn't make the lyrics English, because you need the “Chinese mentality” to get the message behind the surface.) They are not being sinister or anything close to that at all.

    The original message (the Chinese version) is all about how the Chinese-speakers love Chinese as a language. (That is why it has all the crazy rhymed poems in it.) It is also happily stating the trend that more people are realizing Chinese is or will be important and are starting to learn the language. Also, they are trying to be cute, in case people didn't get that.

    One thing you have to understand is that the Chinese people have been suffering for years trying to learn English. Just- too- much- pain-. (Assuming your mother tongue is something in the Latin family, and if you have tried to learn Chinese or Japanese, any eastern Asian language, you will know what I mean by pain.) Shouldn't they be a little proud, happy or relieved when they see other people are learning Chinese instead?

    Another thing is Chinese is spoken by more than 1 billion people and English 400 million people as the first language. ( We just have to face the fact that if we want to international, we learn English, as well as Chinese.

    S.H.E. is hot in China because people, not CCTV, love them. The sales of their albums have been #1 or #2 in China for years. ( So no worries there. I understand their music is not as artful as is in the US, but it is the taste in China. Again, we have to face the fact that people chose this taste. 🙂

    Anyway, I am just trying to look at the song from a different perspective. Hopefully it helps the non-speakers to understand the good intention behind this song.

  4. Hi Hu, Thanks for your insight – I'm happy to stand corrected although I still think its a bit to much of a coincidence that this song was chosen to be performed on the CCTV gala given its lyrics.

    What worries me here is that wrapping nationalism up in a “cute” package could be seen as a veiled form of brainwashing in so much as millions of people will have watched this for entertainment but the message being put across seems to be a bit out of sync with reality.

    Perhaps I am wrong and misinterpreting because of the literal translation as you say but a group of Taiwanese singing about how great China is on state TV is a little to much for me!

  5. Ha. I see what is happening here. Let me point out that the translated English word “Chinese” can mean many different things. But the original word “Zhong Guo Hua” in mandarin, means “Chinese language” ( only. It is the official language in both PRC (China) and ROC (Taiwan). Both people from Taiwan and people from mainland China share the love and “nationalism” towards OUR mother tongue. S.H.E. are all considered Chinese (from a culture perspective) to me b/c they speak exactly the same Chinese language as I do. Again, the love here is part of the “Chinese mentality” I mentioned before. I can understand why it is hard for people from the US to truly get it, given how the US is founded by people from all over the world.

    As to the reality, I have no say. I recommend reading an article from Time Asia.

    Hope it helps.

  6. Apologies that you comment took a while to appear Hu, it got stuck in the moderation queue! Thanks again for your comments, one correction – I'm not from the US (thank goodness) – I'm British from the UK!!

    The article you linked to was very interesting and I have no doubt that Chinese is becoming an ever more important language. I'd personally love to learn Mandarin but having tried my hand at Japanese and Korean at university have found learning Asian languages extremely hard. If I get another chance to live out there maybe I will take it up more seriously.

    1. Nikkei avatar

      Maybe you should try learning Filipino just for the fun of learning an Asian language. It’s easier to learn since Tagalog (or Filipino) doesn’t have its own alphabet ( well it had one, but we don’t use it now, we use the English alphabet) , aside from that, Filipino is somewhat based on Spanish so the words are easier to pronounce. The pronunciation rule also follows a read it as you see it pattern so you can just grab any Filipino text and start reading it out loud. For example, the word Mabuhay. It is read as ma-boo-high. So there, quite easy write?

      I must say, even if I’m Asian, I find studying Mandarin and Korean difficult. I can’t seem to wrap my tongue around there syllables and tones. But oh well, I guess I just have to work harder.

      1. Nikkei avatar

        I meant right not, write 😛 Sorry for the mistake there.

        1. Filipino certainly sounds a lot simpler than Mandarin but I think I’d better focus on becoming conversational in the latter before attempting to learn another language! Unfortunately I don’t think my brain is cut out for linguistics 🙂

  7. What makes it more ironic is that S.H.E. came out for Taiwan independence and are now frowned upon in China.

    1. Now that is ironic but good for them standing up for what they believe in. I guess that debunks my theory about them being part of the propaganda machine.

  8. zack avatar

    I was shocked when I found out what the lyrics were to this song. It’s not a little sinister is outright chauvanism, a song glorifying the chinese language and gloating that people are now learning it. I nearly decided to stop learning chinese after this, its like they’re mocking you and from a pop group as well. It’s very worrying, just goes to show how entrenched and accepted this kind of chuavanism is in Chinese culture.

  9. Grant avatar

    Quoting Hu: “Shouldn’t they be a little proud, happy or relieved”?

    Happy or relieved, sure! Can understand that. But proud of what? The beauty of Mandarin like the song states? I think it will be some time before we start making love to Mandarin instead of Italian, Spanish or Portuguese.

    I love learning languages but Mandarin does not strike me as sounding beautiful like the song claims (or is the beauty of Chinese in its elegant phrases, not its pronunciation?). Elegant phrases aside, an overwhelming number (11 out of 23) of pinyin syllable initials are some form of fricative or affricative (transcibed as c, ch, h, j, q, r, s, sh, x, z, zh). The rhotic approximant final sound ‘ar’ sounds like a pirate of yesteryear saying ‘are!’. There are only 4 tones (5 if you include the neutral tone). It makes the language sound robotic, compared to other tonal languages like Thai or Cantonese. This fact is hidden only when sung to a musical tune.

    In any case, people don’t choose to learn Mandarin for its beauty. They choose to learn it for its usefulness.
    David said it in his post:
    “Filipino certainly sounds a lot simpler than Mandarin but I think I’d better focus on becoming conversational in the latter before attempting to learn another language!”

    If you just want to speak a language to be trendy or to show how smart you are (as the song suggests), you should learn how to read and speak Cantonese instead. It also sounds a lot more vibrant (though you may need to use some earplugs at first!). From there, you can more easily learn to speak and read Mandarin if you later decide to. In the mean time you can have a great time in Hong Kong. (but hurry, before Putonghua, oops I mean Mandarin, takes over!)

  10. Jimmy avatar

    The lyrics of this song do not represent nationalist or pro-communist sentiments in my mind at all. As a student of Mandarin I’ve come to appreciate that “Chinese” does not refer at all to the modern PRC government, despite its dominance over the nation. It is instead thousands of years of rich culture epitomised in a language that becomes increasingly less harsh and unsavoury the more it’s experienced. Despite the often rough initials and finals, the process of understanding the language in and of itself, while simultaneously learning the correlating cultural depth, renders it absolutely beautiful.

    This song is not about the inexorable conquest of China over the world; rather, it reflects the world’s increasing recognition of its culture and history, embodied in ‘zhong guo hua’. This is not Chinese politics, propaganda or subversion, but merely an oft-ignored language and all its connotations striving for recognition alongside English. 🙂

  11. Grnmtngrl avatar

    Actually, it’s not just business schools who are learning Chinese. Chinese was one of only two languages offered at my tiny Midwestern high school. I’ve noticed a lot of rural public schools beginning to offer Chinese in recent years.


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