With the Year of the Pig just around the corner, people in China are buzzing about the release of 5G enabled devices and Peppa Pig memes. That’s now, but let’s take a step back in time for this week’s Friday Song.
The year’s 2005, and according to Internet Live Chart, only 8.5% of the population has access to the internet at home, connected via “any device type and connection.” One of the 8.5%, Wáng Jǐnméi 王瑾玫, decided to hook up a headset to a computer, don the moniker Xiāng Xiāng 香香 (literally, “fragrant fragrant”), and record a song about a pig in the hope of getting signed.
Knowing that intellectual property rights weren’t necessarily at the top of the e-pirates’ priorities, putting the track online for free soon lead to more than 1 billion downloads, a record deal generating over 40 million RMB ($6 million) in record sales, and being forever known as China’s first internet pop icon.
To some, “Song of Pig” (猪之歌 zhū zhī gē) is a cute song about a clumsy farm animal; to others, it’s an expertly crafted composition, laden with lyrical twists and turns…when taken with a pinch of salt.
The song sets out with simple descriptions of a sniffling pig struggling to see past its snout, or hear the taunts of the protagonist.
Zhū! Nǐ de bízi yǒu liǎng gè kǒng
Pig! your nose has two holes
Gǎnmào shí de nǐ hái guàzhe bítì niūniū
When you have a cold, it drips like a faucet
Zhū! nǐ yǒuzhe hēi qī qī de yǎn
Pig! you’ve got ink-black eyes
Wàng ya wàng ya wàng yě kàn bù dào biān
And no matter how you squint you can’t see very far
Zhū! Nǐ de ěrduǒ shì nàme dà
Pig! Your ears are really big
Hū shan hū shan yě tīng bù dào wǒ zài mà nǐ shǎ
No matter how I yell you can’t hear me cursing your stupidity
These descriptions could quite easily fit that of an aging animal; however, as the song develops, the lyrics become less and less endearing.
Zhū! Nǐ de dùzi shì nàme gǔ
Pig! your belly is so round
yī kàn jiù zhīdào shòu bùliǎo shēnghuó de kǔ
It’s obvious you can’t take a hard life
Xiang Xiang lays the literary smackdown with this last insult.
Shàngbèizi yīdìng tóu zài nà fùguì rénjiā
In your last life, you belonged to a wealthy family
Chuánshuō nǐ de zǔxiān yǒu bǎ dīngbà
Legend says your ancestors include Zhu Bajie
Zhu Bajie is a rather lazy, lustful, and gluttonous watermelon-guzzling half-man, half-pig creature that features extensively in Wú Chéng’ēn’s 吴承恩 Journey To The West (西遊記 Xīyóu jì). Zhu Bajie is frequently referred to throughout as “the idiot.”
The listener is invited to question earlier imagery of “the pig,” and the relationship between the singer and subject. Is this an ode to a funny old farm animal, or a subtle metaphor for something, or someone else?
Did Xiang Xiang get lucky, or could she foresee the future of the online music industry?
Is this song innocent and sweet, or have I added too much salt?
You decide, fair reader, on the cusp of the new lunar year — the year of the big-eared, round-bellied stupid pig.