Demystifying Dao Lang's "Luocha Haishi" Lyrics (刀郎-罗刹海市) - Part II
In Part I of the translation of Dao Lang (刀郎)'s new song "Luocha Haishi" (罗刹海市), I made some notes about the song's lyrics, do read it prior to continuing this post as I am not duplicating those notes here.
Compare the differences in the lyrics between the direct translation and the demystified phrases with better understanding of the terms used. Marvel at Dao Lang's cleverness in stringing the terms and phrases that he wants and creating a song with "multiple layers".
Listen to Dao Lang's song here:
If you can read Chinese, it will be easier to understand the lyrics by reading the Chinese version as some phrases or dialect terms are not easy to translate to English — and barring any translation errors on my part.
Demystifying Luocha Haishi by Dao Lang:
Luocha Kingdom is twenty-six thousand miles to the east (of China)
In “Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio", a villager of Luocha Kingdom told Maji, the protagonist of the classic tale, that "26,000 miles to the west, there is China". Earth's circumference at the equator is only 24,901 miles. So Luocha Kingdom is an imaginative place to the east of China, not old-day Russia, and neither is it China. So, don't read too much into this line.
Across seven lands and dried seas, on three inches of yellow muddy land
→ It is a filthy place
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, parts and tissues in the human digestive system, that breaks down food and convert them to energy, are named with "冲, 焦, 海" (similar to "land" and "dried seas" when describing natural landscape). And three inches (三寸) below the belly button is an acupuncture point known as "黄庭" or "泥丸地". The term "黄泥地" is concocted by drawing three characters from the two names, which translates literally to "yellow muddy land". The line is saying that Luocha Kingdom is a filthy place in a roundabout way.
Because there is a one-hill river
→ Because all the people there are all of a kind (bad people)
The river water flows pass GoGo Camp
→ Achieving their own goals via unscrupulous means shamelessly
On the surface, these 2 lines are talking about a river (河) that leads to a camp (营), but the terms "一丘河" (one-hill river) and "苟苟营" (the name of a make-up camp) do not make much sense. However, both terms sound like two Chinese idioms: "一丘之貉" and "狗苟蝇营". "一丘之貉" (literally: a hill of raccoon dogs) meaning the people there are all of a kind, all are equally bad. "狗苟蝇营" refers to people who use unscrupulous means shamelessly to achieve their own goals.
GoGo Camp’s in-charge is a brothel owner known as Mahu
→ The group is led by a brothel owner known as Mahu
"苟苟营" as explained earlier is not a camp but a group of ill-intentioned people. The term "叉杆儿" means the owner of a brothel. This line can be rephrased as "the group of ill-intentioned people is led by a brothel owner known as Mahu". The use of "brothel owner" is probably just a "connector" to link with the next line.
Ten-mile entertainment place has a nickname
→ 1) She is known by all in the entertainment place
→ 2) The entertainment place is well-known
This line has a weird sentence construct be it in Chinese or English. where "十里" (literally: 10-mile) is placed before "花场" (literally: entertainment place), so it probably is not referring to a distance but something to do with "ten", like in a name for example. "浑名" means a known nickname. Two possibilities:
Keeping in context with the previous line where Mahu is introduced, it could mean that Mahu is known by all in the entertainment place;
As a standalone line, it means the entertainment place is well-known.
She has two ears close to shoulders and a three-hole nostril
→ She has illicit relationships with men
"她" means Mahu is a female — this is not meant to refer to a female in real-life but because most of the song's lyrics are composed to describe actions performed by females. In "Strange Tales", Luocha Kingdom's ugly-looking prime minister is said to have ears that grown backwards, not "傍肩" which literally means side-by-side with the shoulders. In fact, "傍肩" is a Beijing term referring to men and women having illicit relationships.
Turns (her) butt before opening mouth to speak
→ Make decisions without listening to others' opinions
"腚" is buttocks, so to turn one's buttocks means to turn around or away. Although this line translate to "turns butt before opening mouth to speak", it is not clear who is speaking and who is turning away. Two possibilities:
It could be the same person who turns his/her back on someone before speaking, common actions of a disdainful person who looks down on others;
One has not spoken and the other has turned away, implying a decision has been made without listening to others.
Squat in her nest everyday to make an egg lie down
→ An accomplice to someone (the mastermind) committing misdeeds
How did a donkey have egg? And instead of hatching an egg (孵蛋), the term used is "卧蛋" which can means "lie down with the egg" or "make the egg lie down" literally, but neither make sense. In fact, "卧蛋" refers to someone who acts as an informant for bandits, or an accomplice to misdeeds.
Old powdered lips for half her life-time thinking she’s a chicken
→ A glib-talker who lacks sincerity in whatever she said
The term "粉嘴" refers to a glib talker who speaks fluently, but often insincerely. The rest of the line is just a transition to the chorus.
That Mahu doesn’t know she is a donkey
That Youniao doesn’t know it is a chicken
Railings have always pretended to be elegant
→ Brothels have always pretend to be elegant
In ancient China, "勾栏" refers to railings that separate entertainers from audience in the pleasure district. Due to limited entertainment in those days, the term was later used to refer directly to brothels. So, this line means a place that seems honourable or elegant on the surface, but is not the case in reality, like a smoke-screen.
Eunuchs craved for power and fame since ancient times
Eunuchs, minus their most important parts, are worried of being looked down upon, thus, they seek power and fame in order to divert attentions away from their defects. This line has similar meaning as the previous line, except that it refers to a person instead of a place.
From the west, came a young man name Maji
美丰姿 少倜傥 华夏的子弟
Charming and suave, a Chinese descendent
He sails the seas in a row-boat, brave winds and waves
→ He handles human relationships with ease and overcome obstacles bravely
Dragon travels in treacherous water and stranded on the evil land
→ Travels in treacherous water and stranded on the evil land
The above 4 lines describe the protagonist, Maji (马骥) a.k.a LongMei (龙媒), from the "Strange Tales". So "龙" in the last line is referring to Maji, not a dragon, and how he came to be stranded in Luocha Kingdom. The idiom "大海泛舟" (literally: rowing a boat on the sea) means to handle any situations at ease. However, the third line has been modified to "人海泛舟" (literally: rowing a boat in a sea of people) which could means "to handle human-related situations with ease". "搏风击浪" (literally: fight the wind and beat the wave) means to overcome any obstacles bravely.
He sees that things in Luocha Kingdom are always inverted
"颠倒" means inverted or flip-sided. This line implies that Luocha Kingdom sees ugliness as beauty, and without the ability to differentiate between right and wrong.
Mahu loves to listen to Youniao’s tune
→ Mahu listens to the tune of Youniao
Youniao is a chicken, but thinks it is a bird, yet Mahu likes Youniao's clucking as though it is a bird singing. In other words, Mahu listens to the tune of Youniao even if it is not right.
Chicken crowing at midnight as if it is rooster’s call at dawn
→ Youniao is someone without authority or rights but is calling the shots indiscriminately
"母鸡打鸣当司晨" or "牝鸡司晨" (literally: hen crowing in place of a rooster at dawn) is a term used in ancient times to refer to a woman who seize power and resulted in chaos. This means someone who do not have the authority or rights but is calling the shots indiscriminately (crowing at midnight instead of at dawn). "Chicken" is used in the line in place of "hen" to imply any gender, not just women.
Half-closed door expressing true love using a scarf
→ Claim to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case
"半扇门" (literally: half-closed or half-opened door) refers to an unlicensed prostitute or misbehaving woman. "裱" is a lady's scarf in ancient China. Literally, the line translates to "a prostitute hiding behind half-closed door, with a lady's scarf hanging on the lintel probably as a signal, and expressing true love". A slutty woman expressing true love? That means pretentious or hypocrisy (claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case).
With red-sketched wings, black-painted face
Green-embroidered crown, gold-plated hooves
(above 2 lines described how Mahu looks like an ugly chicken)
But coal “ore” has always been born black
No matter how you wash it, it’s still a dirty thing
Repeat Chorus #1
Outrageous that pigs and dogs can enter an art gallery
→ Outrageous that people with extremely bad conduct can enter an elegant place
"猪狗不如" is a Chinese idiom often used to describe someone of having extremely bad conduct, not even fit to be dogs and pigs. It is outrageous that such "low-lifes" are allow to enter an elegant place. An "art gallery" (画堂) is used here so as not to refer to certain places explicitly and result in misunderstandings.
A shoehorn used as Chinese scepter of authority (ruyi)
Using a cheapskate shoehorn as the high-value Chinese scepter of authority (ruyi)? This line has similar meaning as the previous line, which expresses misfit of people or things in places where they do not belong.
Repeat Chorus #2
Love (愛) has a heart (心), heart can be good or evil
Hundred kinds of love may have thousand kinds of bad
Girl (女子) is good (好), but not all are good
And those with stings on wasps' tails
→ And there are those who are venomous at heart
The Traditional Chinese character for love is "愛" with a heart (心) in it. The character "好" (good) is made up of two characters "女子", which coincidentally means "girl". Of course, not all girls are good. "青竹蛇儿口，黄蜂尾上针，两般自由可，最毒妇人心" is a Chinese proverb that means "between the mouth of a green bamboo snake and the sting on a wasp's tail, the most venomous is a woman's heart". The 4 lines above briefly highlight the good and bad of human nature, but not limited to just girls — they are implicated because of the word "good" (好).
In the west, European steel has a boss
Has a son (Ludwig) Wittgenstein
He says Mahu is a donkey, Youniao is a chicken
In the 19th century, a European steel tycoon has a son named Ludwig Wittgenstein, a philosopher who worked in logic. By implicating Wittgenstein, these 3 lines seek to reinforce "Mahu is a donkey, Youniao is a chicken" as a logical fact.
So is that Mahu a donkey or donkey is Youniao chicken?
That donkey is a chicken then that chicken is a donkey
That chicken is a donkey then that donkey is a chicken
That “Mahu-Youniao” (anomaly)
Is a root problem of humanity
The last two lines of the song proclaims that all the problems mentioned above — so-called the “Mahu-Youniao” anomaly — is a root problem of humanity.
Have a better understanding of the song now?