Friday Song: Ai Jing’s yearning for Hong Kong in ‘My 1997’

Society & Culture

“1997, please come soon, then I can go to Hong Kong.”

In 1992, in the eyes of many on the mainland, Hong Kong was a fantastical place, one of crowded shopping malls, gigantic concert stadiums, and midnight movie theaters. These images haunted a generation of Chinese youth, and helped them imagine a future — 1997, specifically, when the city would be handed back to China from Great Britain — where they could obtain visas and finally visit the bustling metropolis.

This — the “flowery world” (花花世界 huā huā shì jiè) that is Hong Kong — was the subject of one of the popular tunes of that time, “My 1997,” written by then-23-year-old Ai Jing. In it, Ai tells the story of how she was born and raised in Shenyang but chased her musical dream in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. After falling in love with a Hong Kong man, she sings about her anticipation for 1997 to come sooner so that she can finally visit the place.

The song was a huge success not only in mainland China but also in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. Although Ai Jing has insisted it is purely a love song, many have pointed out the political implications. Yuliang Chang, a communication studies scholar at Nanhua University in Taiwan, wrote that the song represents Beijing’s desire for Hong Kong’s return.

And Mayfair Mei-hui Yang, a professor of East Asian cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, points out:

“This song often made Hong Kong Chinese anxious because it reminded them that in 1997 China would become Hong Kong’s new master. However, mainland Chinese were impatient for the day when Hong Kong’s dazzle, wealth, and cosmopolitanism would become accessible to them.”

In 2007, Ai Jing was invited by the Hong Kong Tourism Board to sing a new version — on the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return — called “My 1997 and 2007,” with revised lyrics such as, “1997 has already arrived, we can go to Hong Kong now” (1997已经到了 我们可以去香港了1997 yǐ jīng dào liǎo wǒ mén kě yǐ qù xiāng gǎng liǎo).

Now, nearly three decades after its release, mainland China’s impressions of Hong Kong have evolved — while Hong Kongers anxiety about the mainland has only increased, as recent protests have made abundantly clear. But the song “My 1997” still resonates with a generation of Chinese who grew up under the influence of Hong Kong pop culture and witnessed the city’s return in 1997. As one review on Douban, a social networking website that focuses on culture and lifestyle, reads: “Yearning, hesitancy, wishfulness, disappointment, and dream-like idealism…[‘My 1997’] is embedded with the emotions of a generation of Chinese youth.”

The lyrics:

My music teacher is my father

He has worked at a state-owned factory for 20-some years

My mother used to sing Peking Opera

She grumbles she wasn’t born during a better era

I have won singing competitions when I was young

My two younger sisters want to follow my path

I left my hometown of Shenyang at 17

Because that place isn’t where I’ll find my dream

I came alone to the strange city of Beijing

Got admitted to the famous Oriental Troupe led by Wang Kun

To be honest, I most long for my days in that music school

But my teachers don’t share my thinking

I sing very well

So I can earn a living for myself

I sang from Beijing to Shanghai

And from Shanghai to a south I once dreamed of

I’ve lingered in Guangzhou for a while

Because my “other” is in Hong Kong

When did Hong Kong begin to exist?

And what are Hong Kong people like?

He can come to Shenyang

I cannot go to Hong Kong

香港 香港 那个香港
Hong Kong, Hong Kong, oh that Hong Kong

Hou Dejian (a Taiwanese singer) said I should go out into the world to broaden myself

香港 香港 怎样那么香
Hong Kong, Hong Kong, why is it so fragrant?

I heard it’s an important market for Cui Jian (a Chinese singer)

Let me go to the flowery world

Give me a big red stamp

1997快些到吧 八百伴究竟是什么样
1997, please come soon, what is Yaohan (a shopping mall) like?

1997快些到吧 我就可以去HONG KONG
1997, please come soon, then I can go to Hong Kong

1997快些到吧 让我站在红勘体育馆
1997, please come soon, let me stand at the Hong Kong Coliseum

1997快些到吧 和他去看午夜场
1997, please come soon, let me see a midnight movie with him

1997快点儿到吧 八百伴衣服究竟怎么样
1997, please come soon, what kind of clothes are on sale at Yaohan?

1997快些到吧 我就可以去香港
1997, please come soon, then I can go to Hong Kong.

1997快些到吧 让我站在红勘体育馆
1997, please come soon, let me stand at the Hong Kong Coliseum

1997快些到吧 和他去看午夜场
1997, please come soon, let me see a midnight movie with him


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