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Communist songs: 《东方红》- The East is Red

This song is a relic of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The melody was adapted from an old farmer’s folk song back in 1942, and became popular when Mao Zedong’s (毛泽东) cult of personality was in full swing.

It’s Communism Week at CRP. All this week, we’re learning Chinese through the lens of historical and modern CCP propaganda, speeches, stories, essays and songs.

Quick reminder: To maintain a polite, language learning-focused environment, political comments – positive, negative, or neutral – are not allowed, and will be deleted.

This song is a relic of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The melody was adapted from an old farmer’s folk song back in 1942, and became popular when Mao Zedong’s (毛泽东) cult of personality was in full swing. This rousing anthem worships the glory of Chairman Mao (毛主席) – I’m not actually sure “rousing” really covers how enthusiastic this song is, it kind of punches you in the eardrums with patriotic fervor. To be clear: this is not the official Chinese national anthem, but during the height of the Cultural Revolution it was kind of an unofficial national anthem, and most folks on mainland usually remember at least some of the lyrics.

I often get requests from readers to add audio to my posts, and I can’t do it because of time constraints, but since this was such a popular song, there are still lots of places you can listen to it. So, if you want to listen to the song with music and lyrics, you can check it out here (and if that link breaks in the future, just look up 东方红 on Youtube, there are lots of vids).

Some language stuff

I had an impossible time trying to find actual beginner-level reading on Communism. Even the children’s stories are pretty hard. To read this smoothly without looking anything up, you’d have to be an advanced reader. But this song is great for HSK 3-4 readers who are willing to put in a bit of effort, because it’s a good overview of all the entry-level Communist vocab, the lyrics are very repetitive and bite-sized, and there are enough beginner-level words here to point you in the right direction, so with some study, you can get this. However, because there’s a lot to parse, I’m going to do a lot of explaining.

First, some critical Communist-themed vocab:

毛泽东 máo zé dōng – Mao Zedong, the founder of modern China, who died in 1976

毛主席 máo zhǔ xí – Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong’s official title

大救星 dà jiù xīng – You can probably figure out the general idea here by looking at each character individually. 大 is “big” or “great”, 救 is “to rescue”, and 星 is “star”. All together, this means “great savior”, one of the many worshipful terms used to describe Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution.

共产党 gòng chǎn dǎng – The Communist Party (CCP)

人民 rén mín – The People. This is used in almost every line of this song, so I won’t highlight every instance.

解放 jiě fàng – Liberation

Then, some grammatical points of order:

le / liǎo – If you listen to the audio, you’ll notice that the singers pronounce 了 as liao, rather than le. This is just a colloquial pronunciation thing, the meaning of this grammar word has not changed.

出了 chū le / liǎo – Grammatically speaking, the most difficult part of these lyrics for me is translating 出了, because it’s a little abstract. The full lyric is 中国出了个毛泽东, which I’ll break down here:

中国 – China
出了 – ???
个 – A / one
毛泽东 – Mao Zedong

We know that 出 means “to go out”, “to issue forth”. It’s present in the word 出生 chū shēng, “to be born”, and also present in the word 出现 chū xiàn, “to appear”. So, this lyric means something like “Mao Zedong appeared in China”, or “China gave birth to one Mao Zedong”, or “Mao Zedong comes from China”. None of those translations feel exactly right, but you get the point.

wèi – Another tricky grammar point here is the use of 为. We see this being used in two ways, once just by itself, and once as 为了. These two uses have different definitions. When 为 is by itself before a noun, it means “for (noun)”. As in “for the people”. When it is 为了, before a verb, it means “in order to (do something)”.

dé – The definition of 得 being used here is “to receive”.

呼儿嗨哟 hū er hēi yō – Don’t get tripped up on this, these aren’t real words. These are just sounds that round out the song, as in the “ooooh” or “la la la”, that you might hear in English songs. You might best translate this as “Hurrah!”, a sound that expresses joy and victory.

Alright, ready? Let’s do this.

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东方红

东方红,太阳升
中国出了毛泽东
人民谋幸福
呼儿嗨哟
他是人民大救星
人民谋幸福
呼儿嗨哟
他是人民大救星

毛主席爱人民
他是我们的带路人
为了建设新中国
呼儿嗨哟
领导我们向前进
为了建设新中国
呼儿嗨哟
领导我们向前进

共产党像太阳
照到哪里,那里亮
哪里有了共产党
呼儿嗨哟
那里人民解放
哪里有了共产党
呼儿嗨哟
那里人民解放

东方红,太阳升
中国出了毛泽东
人民谋幸福
呼儿嗨哟
他是人民大救星
人民谋幸福
呼儿嗨哟
他是人民大救星
大救星

Show English translation »
The East is Red, the sun is rising
Mao Zedong appeared in China
He is working for the People’s prosperity
Hurrah!
He is the People’s great savior
He is working for the People’s prosperity
Hurrah!
He is the People’s great savior

Chairman Mao loves the People
He is our guide
In order to build New China
Hurrah!
He leads us towards advancement
In order to build New China
Hurrah!
He leads us towards advancement

The Communist Party is like the sun
Wherever it shines, there is light
Wherever the Communist Party goes
Hurrah!
The People there receive liberation
Wherever the Communist Party goes
Hurrah!
The People there receive liberation

The east is red, the sun is rising
Mao Zedong appeared in China
He is working for the People’s prosperity
Hurrah!
He is the People’s great savior
He is working for the people’s prosperity
Hurrah!
He is the People’s great savior
Great savior

5 replies on “Communist songs: 《东方红》- The East is Red”

Hmm I get what you mean by 出了 being hard to convey. Maybe something along the lines of “Mao emerged from China”?

Yeah, that’s definitely a good translation. But there’s also this element of being “born” from China, you know? I’m not sure if there’s a perfect word for that.

Yeah, sadly we have to pick and choose when translating. Saying Mao born and raised from China emerged as a hero/savior just sounds awkward.

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