Lyric translation: Visiting the Qingshui River

Remember how the post on Chinese names mentioned most people use their ming as their first name? Guo Degang’s students are some of the last exceptions in entertainment.  Everyone who studies under Guo Degang receives a zi when they’re deemed worthy. Zhang Yunlei’s Yunlei and his partner Yang Jiulang’s Jiulang are both zi.

A criticism of opium addiction and the oppressive social order during the late Qing dynasty, Beijing folk ballad  Visiting the Qingshui River 探清水河 tells the tragedy of a pair of star-crossed lovers.

If the song sounds familiar, it might be because it uses the same tune as Qinhuai River of film The Flowers of War.

Zhang Yunlei singing his popular abridged guitar version with fans:

There are many different versions for this song, and the lyrics I’m translating is the Guo Degang version. The guitar version popularized by Guo Degang’s student Zhang Yunlei is basically the same but cuts out some lines. You can listen to the Guo Degang version here., Zhang Yunlei long version w/ guitar here, a remix version with Fei Yuqing here, and the Errenzhuan version here.

The song switches point of view pretty frequently, but I think it should be clear who is speaking at any time.

Visiting the Qingshui River
lyrics/composer: unknown


The peach leaves grow sharp, the sleeping willows cover the sky
My dear audience, listen to my tale.
The story occurs in Western Beijing’s Landianchang.
In Landianchang’s Huoyinglian lives a Song Laosan*
Song Laosan and his wife sell opium,
they have no son, but gave birth to a girl.
This year, the young girl is sixteen
they give her the nickname Lily
Lily is her name, and beautiful is her face
Yet this flower is not picked, this pipa not plucked.
She is like the Diaochan who misses Lv Bu,
and like Yan Poxi who longs for Zhang San
The sun hids behind the mountains, the autumn bugs begin to sing
My beloved Liu Gege* whom I think of day and night,
has come to my door,
He asks to meet today at midnight,
Lily I am too shy, and lower my head with no reply
At dusk the girl weeps,
bemoaning that her parents are addicted to opium
and cares not for her future
Once her youth has passed, where will she find her youth
It’s nighttime and the Liu Gege whom I think of every day climbs over the fence,
The noise disturbs the upper floor,
and the lovesick girl opens the door in fear
She grabs her beloved’s hands.
The bell tolls at midnight, and the moon shines above head
A pair of love-stricken lovers, sit facing each other
The lovebirds play in the water, and pour their hearts out to each other
It’s now dusk, and the day is turning bright.
Her parents learn of what had happened.
You shameless girl, you’ve ruined our good name.
Today we must punish you.
The whip is dipped in water, and no mercy is given
Lily I have nothing to say, and am forced to jump into the river.
The word gets to Liu Gege, who comes to visit the Qingshui River.
My beloved, you died because of me.
Lily my love, don’t go so quickly, wait for your Liu Gege.
The autumn shower continues to fall, the fog falls upon the Qingshui River
A pair of lovers jumped in the river.
The love-stricken gal, and the love-stricken boy.
This tale was composed into a song, called Visiting the Qingshui River
This tale was composed into a song, called Visiting the Qingshui River

*Liu Gege is not his name, but means “the sixth brother.” It likely means he’s the sixth son of his family. Gege can be translated as brother but really is just something you call a male who’s older than you but still in the same generation. Similarly, Song Laosan means the third kid in the Song family and is not his actual name.

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