TW: Domestic violence, homicide
As a domestic violence survivor, I find solidarity in music that tells the stories of victim/survivors. I regard the four cities that I’ve lived in in China as my second hometowns (我的第二故乡). Furthermore, my experiences as a survivor were complicated by my experiences in China with intimate partner violence, reporting and leaving physical abuse in a host family I lived with briefly, and being in the country when the country’s first anti-family violence law was enacted April 1st, 2016. Thus, when I first learned about Tan Wei Wei’s song 小娟 Xiao Juan (Little Beauty) through an article online, I was moved by Tan’s decision to infuse details of the horrific deaths of women killed by domestic violence with a catchy pop track. Statistically, victims are more likely to be killed on the day they (attempt to) leave their abuser. This is one of the many reasons why victims find it difficult (impossible) “to just leave” (a problematic, inherently victim blaming term).
What this song depicts first is the flippant regard from society towards news of domestic violence (‘headshot with pixelated eyes’ / ‘A topic of discussion over a cup of tea, a diversion after a meal — / how quickly cast aside’); this is replicated in the catchy track of the music: a rhyming chorus, upbeat Oh’s sung throughout, and an animated albeit sarcastic inflection of Tan’s voice. This seemingly cheery song is in stark contrast with other languid, sometimes melancholic songs from the same album, 3811. Similar to how quickly one may disregard and flip over a headline of domestic violence (or worse, the apparent red flags among our friends), this song’s catchy tune first masked the sinister lyrics embedded within.
‘Xiao Juan’ is characterized by its playfulness. This is most present in the avant-garde list of characters in the refrain: Argue, rape, demon, bitch, prostitute, mistress, whore, whore, slave / played, greed, suave, absurd, amuse, resent, hinder, envy, envy.’ The original version in Mandarin enlists each word in a couplet that contain words with a negative representation of the radical for female (女); the first line is a list of derogatory insults that are often female-specific whereas the second line lists inferior adjectives, verbs, and nouns that also include the female radical (女). The combination of these two lines is not a grammatically correct structure; however, it is an intentionally shocking list which directly addresses the biased and patriarchal nature of the written Chinese language.
What’s most apparent in the song as a rallying cry to raise awareness for domestic violence is the details that directly reference victims murdered by their abusers. The second stanza enlists violent means that can kill: ‘curled fist, gasoline, sulfuric acid.’ There are many explicit references to the deaths of at least two women (please read this article that contextualizes the song with abuse; it states the correlation between the lyrics and the late women).
I implore you to listen to the song at the same time as reading the lyrics below. I decided to translate the song because I want this song to be accessible to those who don’t speak Mandarin and I found the lyrics available on popular lyrics websites to be inaccurate and incomplete. Please take a moment to learn about domestic violence in your local community afterwards.
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