Voice of the people

One nice thing about Chinese history is that there is a long history of recording popular songs. From the Han at least it was assumed that popular songs reflected the popular mind, and so collecting them was an early form of public opinion polling.

In the first month of spring each year, just before the many inhabitants were to scatter [for farmers went out to live in their fields during the growing season], the envoys would come shaking their wooden clackers all along the roads, in this way intending to gather up the local odes, which were then presented to the Grand Master [at court]. It was he who arranged their musical scores, at which point they were performed for the Son of Heaven. Hence, the saying, “The king knows All-under-Heaven, without ever peering out from his windows and doors.” Han Shu via Nylan Five Confucian Classics

Of course the songs we have written down are problematic in that it is not clear if they are really the songs commoners sung, or what they would mean if they were. Still, a lot of them were recorded. Even the Communists did it.

This is one from Shaanxi in 1938 or so, when the Nationalists were building #7 military school









Number 7 school
Is complete nonsense
A school built on false pretenses
Everywhere they destroy temples
Shattering the tiles
And confiscating the timbers
Political lectures are
Wild talk (could be “Wild talk about the (Communist) 8th route army”?)
Military training is
Endless talk without results
The cavalry have no horses
The artillery have no cannon
They spit out slogans
Eat and sleep

Although the format (peasant complaint song) is very old, this one is pretty astute in its criticisms. In the second line the school is accused of being built on false pretenses. This could mean at least two things. One of the purposes of the school was to suck up students coming from the occupied areas and headed for the Communist base at Yenan. So as far as Chiang Kai-shek was concerned the purpose of the school was not so much military training as denying recruits to the Commies. For Hu Zongnan, the commander of the school, its purpose was to instill loyalty to himself and create the building blocks for a personal satrapy in the Northwest.

As the village the school was located in did not have enough large buildings for what eventually grew into a major training facility a lot of building was done, which required a lot of lumber. Some of this was acquired by forbidding peasants access to the forests, but a lot of it also came from taking apart temples. In the wood-starved Northwest temples would be a great place to find big timbers. Revolutionaries, both Nationalists and Communists, regarded temples as worthless dens of superstition and so loved taking them apart, not as a rule a very popular move.

Mostly though the song criticizes what went on at the school, which for the peasants seems to have been very little. This was the opinion of the students and their future commanders as well, as the school had a reputation for doing more political training than military training. From a good revolutionary point of view that is fine, but apparently the peasants were not buying it.

From 文史料存稿选编 p.743

1There are a couple of possible puns on the name of 胡宗南,Chiang Kai-shek’s commander in Shaanxi and commander of the school. (He was incompetent to the point that Chang and Halliday accuse him of being a communist mole.) There are other bits of wordplay in here too, I think.

1 Comment

  1. Isn’t it typical doggerel 打油诗? Here it has four chacaters per line. Sometimes it has three, five, six, or seven per line. Rhyming on last character makes it easy to memorize and easy to transmit among people. I don’t know whether it is sung in Shanxi. But I suspect that it is sung in Shandong kuaibang快板. a kind of story telling. Its subject varies, but political satire is its main flavor.

    There is no way to know who is real author since it is orally transmitted, which makes it hard to be censored. Before 1949, CCP has realized great function of the song in transitting
    political agenda. They composed songs, printed them on the fliers, and spread it out in the street. I suspect that KMT really knew what happened. Even they knew, there was no way to deal with it. In movies, one of tasks for revolutionists in the city was to spread fliers with these doggerels.

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