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Mo Li Hua, the first Chinese song widely known overseas

2014-12-02 15:01:14



The English version of Mo Li Hua translated by John Barrow. [Photo/]

"What a beautiful jasmine flower. What a beautiful jasmine flower. This beauty in full bloom scents the air, Pure and fragrant all do declare. Let me pluck you down with tender care, Sweetness for all to share. Oh, jasmine flowers, jasmine flowers!"

When the tunes of Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower) resounded through the Olympic venues during the medal ceremony in 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, many in the audience at the scene and watching on TV were touched by the fair-sounding melody of this traditional Chinese folk song.

Mo Li Hua: a song of anti-corruption

Mo Li Hua, a song known to all Chinese, dates back to the period of the Emperor Hongwu in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.). There is a tale about the birth of this song.

The Hongwu Emperor, also known by his given name Zhu Yuanzhang, was one who loathed corruption the most among all the emperors, and he would crack down on corrupt officials at all cost.

One day, his senior officials, Chang Yuchun, Xu Da and Mu Ying, got together, and heaved sighs thinking of their stressful life in the court. To express their anxiety and release their pressure, they improvised a folk song based on the tunes of Hua Gu Xi (flower drum opera); the lyrics were also written on the spur of the moment, with three kinds of flowers mentioned.

The lyrics go like this: “What a beautiful jasmine flower, what a beautiful jasmine flower, its fragrance casts all other flowers into shade; I want to pluck one down, but am afraid of it not budding. What a beautiful honeysuckle, what a beautiful honeysuckle, it blossoms with a hook-like bud; I want to pluck one down, but am afraid of others accusing me; What a beautiful rose, what a beautiful rose, its blossom is as big as a bowl; I want to pluck one down, but afraid of its thorns stabbing me.”

The three kinds of flowers, jasmine, honeysuckle and rose, stand for fame, wealth and power respectively. Jasmine has the same sound with Moli (confiscating benefits), indicating that fame should not be valued too much; honeysuckle is a token of treasures, and you have to pay the price (being scratched by the hook) if you want to pick it; the rose is the embodiment of fortune, and you might he stabbed by the thorns if you wan to take it.

The song was favored by Zhu Yuanzhang, and also well received by civilians; it gained its popularity all though the Ming Empire.

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