A Song’s Lasting Impressions
Reasons I want to cry
“Su Shi’s Prelude to Water Melody (水调歌头) poem is the basis for one of Teresa Teng’s most famous songs, Wishing We Last Forever (但愿人长久). Let’s watch the music video.” The name of the song doesn’t ring a bell, but I am curious as to what a thousand-year-old Chinese poem about the moon and longing sounds like in modern times. The Chinese Calligraphy teacher dims the lights and an 80s Chinese music video appears on the screen.
Teresa Teng gracefully walks up the stage in a simple yet stunning traditional Chinese dress and mist surrounds her, making her look like a divine figure. There is gentle piano and violin music that plays in the introduction, causing me to suddenly feel nostalgic for a thing that I can’t quite pinpoint. I instantly recognize the tune — it’s the song I have heard countless times in the family car growing up, from excursions to rural places in Taiwan to ski trips in the Rockies. Despite the song’s familiarity, I can’t recall the exact lyrics, let alone the name of the song.
When the instrumental music fades away and the camera turns to the singer’s innocent face, I start to feel a lump in my throat. It’s only the beginning of the music video, yet intuition tells me that this song will make me cry. As she sings, I try to take deep breaths, but my chest still feels tight. All I can think about is her gorgeous voice and how angelic she appears while singing. Unlike listening to the song on CD, watching the music video adds an extra dimension and makes the song much more emotional.
Throughout the music video, intense emotions bubble up to the surface, and I feel like crying for so many reasons that seem to contradict one another — I am touched, amazed, and nostalgic at the same time. These are only a few words that describe my emotional state. I can’t contain myself anymore, and one thought leads to another as if it were a cascade.
Watching Teng sing with such elegance pains me because all I can think about is how tragic it was that she passed away unexpectedly at the young age of 42. Despite her short lifespan, she achieved so much in her career by revolutionizing Chinese pop music in the 80s and becoming one of the first Chinese singers to garner fans beyond China and Asia. In essence, Teresa Teng broke down language barriers.
Teresa Teng’s short life isn’t the only reason my heart swells. I want to cry simply because of the timelessness of the lyrics. Our current lives are so vastly different from those who lived in the Song Dynasty almost a thousand years ago, yet the themes of homesickness and longing in Su Shi’s poem remain relatable to this day. Likewise, the moon is the silent companion we still turn to when we miss our family and friends far away. In the context of Chinese culture, the moon is a symbol for the Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday in which families reunite and participate in moon gazing.
Societies change, forms of technology change, but one thing that has stayed the same for the past one thousand years is the moon’s cyclical nature of waxing and waning: full moon to new moon. Listening to an ancient classical Chinese poem in the form of a well-known song that preserves its original meaning is beautiful. That a society’s culture and history can be maintained so well and passed on from generation to generation despite a country’s various struggles and turmoil is what really moves me.
The more I think about the poem’s enduring nature in Chinese society, the more I regret it. I spent all these years of my life listening to these Chinese songs on repeat in the car without trying to understand their meaning or attempting to appreciate the language. It’s not just being unaware of this particular song’s significance beforehand that makes me want to cry.
Living in Taiwan during my late childhood sparked my curiosity about Chinese culture, but I wish I had taken extra steps to learn more about China’s interesting historical events and figures. I wonder why I delayed learning so much until taking IAP Chinese Calligraphy. How ironic it is that I overlooked the various nuggets of Chinese culture when I lived in Taiwan, only to miss the place after leaving. I now want to see the masterpieces of Chinese calligraphy in Taiwan’s National Museum.
I feel like a bubble that’s about to burst because if there’s one thing that is preventing me from becoming closer to my mom and relatives in China, it is the lack of knowledge I have about Chinese culture. For the majority of my life, I lived in the US and immersed myself in Western culture. While I appreciate listening to classical music and reading Western fiction, some part of me feels that I am missing out.
The generational gap between a parent and child will always exist, but I feel that there’s also a cultural gap between my mom and me. Although I am fluent in Chinese, we grew up studying different classics, learning different content in history classes, and so forth. We simply aren’t on the same page.
I know nothing about great Chinese literary works like The Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦). My knowledge of Chinese poets is limited to a couple I learned of recently from the Chinese Calligraphy class and a few from primary school. And there’s so much of China’s rich two-thousand-year-old history that I haven’t even heard about.
Su Shi’s homesickness in the poem is like my current situation: I miss and romanticize living in Taiwan as it feels farther and farther away, but I am aware that having a continued interest in Chinese language and culture can restore this fraying connection.
“但愿人长久，千里共婵娟 (May we all be blessed with longevity, though thousands of miles apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon).”