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"Chinese Song Streamed Billions of Times for ‘Satirical’ Vibe"

Yomiuri Shimbun (August 29, 2023)

Here's the song, with the lyrics in characters, pinyin romanization, and a poor English translation:

There are several other inferior English translations on the internet.  I have yet to find one that is serviceable, though I must admit that I haven't searched very hard because the lyrics are what would be called mòmíngqímiào 莫名其妙 ("baffling; bizarre") in Chinese.  There is much conjecture over just "who is he cursing" and consequent censorship of web discussions about the meaning of the song.

The singer is 52-year-old Dao Lang, who — until this song burst on the scene earlier this summer — had been pretty much inactive for well over a decade.  Here's a brief Wikipedia article on him.  Once this phenomenal new song and all the speculation surrounding it are taken into account, I'm sure there will be much more to say about him and his music.

The title of the song is "Luóchà hǎi shì 罗刹海市" ("Sea City of the Rakshasas"), where "rakshasa" (from Sanskrit rākṣasa राक्षस) is a class of fanged demons in Indian mythology that eat human flesh and blood, similar to vampires in Western lore.  More about the rakshasas and the source of the story below.

Here are pertinent portions of the Yomiuri Shimbun article:

A new song by mainland China’s well-known pop singer Dao Lang has gone viral in the country since it became available for streaming in July. Called “Luocha Haishi,” the song has already been played several billion times.

Its success is being attributed to many people in China feeling stifled by the authorities, especially regarding controls on speech and expression, as the song’s cryptic lyrics are seen by some as satirizing politics and government policies.

The most talked about line in the lyrics roughly translates as, “He sees that things are upside down in the country of Luocha.”

The singer has never explained his thoughts behind the lyrics. Yet the title of the song refers to a country depicted in a short novel written during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), about the kingdom, where values are turned upside down and people see ugly things as beautiful.

“Luocha Haishi” has inspired many people on social media, where there are now a variety of interpretations galore, such as that the song represents ordinary people’s thoughts toward those in power. In other words, it holds a sarcastic view that, in today’s China, what people want and what government policies aim for are heading in opposite directions.

“We are now facing a world that is constantly being ‘inverted,’” said an article about the song on Hong Kong online media site HK01. The article then referred to a recent accident in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang Province, in which 15 junior high school students were killed or injured.

“Even though the parents of the children who were killed should receive information and comfort first, the order of priority was reversed because the local government acted under the policy of ‘stability above all else.’”

University of Tokyo Prof. Tomoko Ako, a specialist on modern China, holds a more cautious view about the phenomenon.

“The authorities tend to be vigilant about any presence that has an influence on the internet and the potential to grab the hearts and minds of many people,” she said.

In spring 2022, the rap song “New Slave” criticized Shanghai’s lockdown policy and became a big hit before being quickly taken down from public access. According to Radio Free Asia, which is affiliated with the U.S. government, the rapper had to then post a statement on his YouTube channel to explain the matter.

Compared to the rap song and other works that are openly critical, what “Luocha Haishi” is criticizing is not apparent. Even as satire, it can be interpreted in various ways. The target may perhaps be society or the entertainment industry. There are also opinions on the internet saying that the song is being overinterpreted.

Dao Lang's "Luocha haishi" is a very strange song, and shows the lengths to which critics of the PRC / CCP will go to express their dismay and displeasure over the deplorable situation in their country.  In my estimation, the incomprehension swirling around Dao Lang's "Luocha Haishi" is an index of the confusion and perplexity that reign in the PRC.

For a complete, annotated translation of the classical tale by Pu Songling (1640-1715) on which the song is based, see pp. 139-155 of Denis C. and Victor H. Mair, Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio (Beijing:  Foreign Languages Press, 1989), where it has the title "The Rākṣasas and the Ocean Bazaar".

Selected readings

[Thanks to June Teufel Dreyer]


  1. Wily said,

    August 31, 2023 @ 8:30 am

    A critic from Hong Kong (non pro-CCP) doesn't give much credit to this song:

  2. Jonathan Smith said,

    August 31, 2023 @ 10:26 am

    um strong cf. Pink Floyd "Money" given b-minor, wacky 7/4 time signature etc… call the lawyers :D

    though the defense might point out that here the singer carries on in a regular rhythm, which is certainly mòmíngqímiào whether or not sufficiently to be exculpatory…

  3. AntC said,

    August 31, 2023 @ 6:46 pm

    @Wily A critic from Hong Kong (non pro-CCP) doesn't give much credit to this song:

    (Thanks. Would the English version of that article be here? It's effectively paywalled from where I am so I'm only going by the DeepL translation of the Chinese you link to.)

    … even if there was any satire, it would never be directed at the Party. Anyone who thinks he's mocking Xi Jinping and other Communist Party officials can go home and sleep it off.

    Neither would I 'give much credit' to what's written on a blank sheet of paper. But holding a sheet of paper 'provocatively' is enough to get you arrested.

    As Prof Mair has often pointed out, it's the ingenuity in smuggling any sort of dissent inside anodyne behaviour that deserves credit.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    August 31, 2023 @ 8:55 pm

    From Andrew Erickson:

    This is the sort of thing that might escape or puzzle many in the West, yet in the PRC context it can be quite powerful and revealing!

    AI-generated video dramatization that requires no translation available here:

    (Warning: bizarre, disturbing content–view at your discretion)

  5. John Swindle said,

    September 2, 2023 @ 6:56 am

    Nor would I give much credit to the Epoch Times.

    There's a little more about the singer Dao Lan (and a little about this song) in the Chinese version of the Wikipedia article.

  6. Chas Belov said,

    September 2, 2023 @ 9:38 pm

    Urk, I couldn't listen for more than an minute. Not my favorite Dao Lang song.

    As for my favorite Dao Lang song, Chong Dong de Cheung Fa, when a Chinese-Lao-American friend who knew I was into international rock music introduced me to the song, he commented on the rough language. My Mandarin is close to non-existent, but I'm guessing he was referring to the "gan" word, which has been discussed on Language Log.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    September 28, 2023 @ 5:23 pm

    The eclectic, anti-mainstream, surprisingly popular music of Dao Lang

    Dao Lang’s latest studio album, "There Are Few Folk Songs," with its incorporation of multiethnic instruments and strange rhythms, has touched a nerve among the Chinese public. Listen very carefully and you just might hear the cracks forming in China’s pop culture edifice.

    by Charles A. Laughlin, The China Project (September 28, 2023)
    Society & Culture

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