Did You Know: The 'Gong Xi Gong Xi' CNY Song Has A Dark History No One Knows About
Out of the many Chinese New Year songs being sung all over the world, there is none more popular than the classic 'Gong Xi Gong Xi' tune
In fact, it was written by popular composer Chen Gexin to celebrate China's victory and liberation following Japan's defeat at the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945
The music and words of the song - titled 'Wishing You Prosperity and Happiness' (Chinese: 恭喜恭喜; pinyin: Gōngxǐ gōngxǐ, literally meaning "congratulations, congratulations") - are written by Chen Gexin, a native of Shanghai and one of the most accomplished songwriters and composers at the time.
Chen, who also used the pen names Lin Mei and Qing Yu, penned famous mid-20th century popular standards like 'Shanghai Nights' (Chinese: 夜上海, pinyin: Ye shang hai) and 'Rose, Rose i Love You' (Chinese: 玫瑰玫瑰我愛你; pinyin: Méiguì méiguì wǒ ài nǐ).
One of the darkest marks in China's history, the Second Sino-Japanese War (7 July 1937 to 9 September 1945) is the largest Asian war in the 20th century, killing 15 to 20 million people in China.
It was also during this war that the infamous Nanking Massacre took place.
Also known as the Rape of Nanking, Japanese soldiers brutally tortured and killed between 40,000 to 300,000 civilians and surrendered soldiers in Nanjing, then the capital city of China.
Over a six-week period (13 December 1937 - January 1938), the Imperial Japanese Army invented and exercised some of the most inhumane and barbaric methods of torture and killing on the people of Nanjing, including - but not limited to - shooting, stabbing, decapitation (beheading), cutting open the abdomen, excavating the heart, drowning, burning, punching the body and the eyes with an awl, castration or punching through the vagina, throwing them into pots of boiling water, and even throwing infants into the air and impaling them with bayonets.
Japanese soldiers also raped over 20,000 women - including children and the elderly - and would often kill them afterwards, sometimes by mutilating their sexual organs. Survivor accounts indicate that the Japanese soldiers would force sons to rape their mothers, fathers to rape their daughters, and even forced monks to rape women.
Chen Gexin himself was jailed by the Imperial Japanese Army for writing patriotic songs during the war, and was also reportedly subject to torture during his three-month imprisonment
Some believe that the atrocities of the war might have had a deep impact on Chen and influenced his music thereafter. That might also explain why 'Gong Xi Gong Xi' was written in the minor key, which is typically used to project sadness and melancholy in a piece of music, to convey China's bittersweet triumph in the war.
So, how did a song celebrating China's victory in the war become associated with Chinese New Year?
Aside from "congratulations", the song's Mandarin title - 'Gong Xi Gong Xi' - is also a common Chinese New Year greeting. The words in the song also celebrates the arrival of spring, which is often used as a symbol of the arrival of the new year.
Hence, the song quickly became associated with Chinese New Year celebrations and has remained a part of the festive season's musical canon since the 1950s. To add, the iconic last two lines of the song are supposed to imitate the beat of the Chinese drum, giving an air of excitement to those who sing it.
Today, the song is sung or at least known by Chinese and non-Chinese alike as an integral part of the coming New Year. But no doubt, we're seeing the lyrics in a whole new light now:
What is your favourite Chinese New Year song? Let us know (or plonk in a YouTube link) in the comments section below!