Rock School: Cui Jian’s Yi Wu Suo You Dissected.

I’ve been meaning to get this new blog series for a while now and never really found the time. Many a time I caught myself at a KTV wanting to sing some cool rock n roll song in Chinese and found out that I only knew the chorus most of the time. Forget about the rest of the lyrics and even the characters!! Just no way in hell.
Come the 12 week challenge that my danwei has embarked on! I’ve picked “improve my Chinese” as my challenge for the next 12 weeks and I intend to do it through Classic Chinese rock n roll songs or songs that I think do matter! This should culminate in a massive KTV session after this when I sing every single one of them.

Now, being a huge KTV fan, I’ve always eyed some classic songs that were on there and know more or less what to expect. I could go with XTX, Dou Wei, Tang Dynasty and so many more… but if one is gonna start studying Chinese through Rock, there is only one valid starting point: The song that started it all!!


It was only logical that Cui Jian’s Yi Wu Suo You 一无所有 was the first song featured in this series that I hope will extend beyond 12 weeks with the premise of studying one new song a week, thus learning the characters and the meaning. This particular song has been talked about for so long that I’ll spare you the introduction.. Google the fucker!

The M.O is simple, I get the characters, research the pinyin and attempt to translate it. Please feel free to chime in if you feel my translation is inadequate! The title of the songs, 一无所有, is literally one (一) without (无) everything (所有). You actually see the character quite often of flyers for no-cover shows in the form of 无票 ( wu piao = without ticket). now, let’s get some lyrics:

So.. press play and follow along

Wǒ céngjīng wèn gè bùxiū
I have endlessly asked

nǐ héshí gēn wǒ zǒu
when will you come with me?

Kě nǐ què zǒng shì xiào wǒ, yīwúsuǒyǒu
But you always laugh at me, for having nothing to my name.

Wǒ yào gěi nǐ wǒ de zhuīqiú
I want to give you my goals

hái yǒu wǒ de zìyóu
and my freedom too,

kě nǐ què zǒng shì xiào wǒ, yīwúsuǒyǒu
but you always laugh at me, for having nothing.

Ō……nǐ héshí gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! When will you come with me?

Ō……nǐ héshí gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! When will you come with me?

Jiǎoxià zhè di zài zǒu
The ground under my feet is moving,

shēnbiān nà shuǐ zài liú
by my side, the water is flowing,

Kě nǐ què zǒng shì xiào wǒ, yīwúsuǒyǒu
but you always laugh at me, for having nothing.

Wèihé nǐ zǒng xiào gè méi gòu
Why won’t you stop laughing ( making fun of me?)

Wèihé wǒ zǒng yào zhuīqiú
Why do I always have to come after you?

Nándào zài nǐ miànqián
Could it be that in front of you

wǒ yǒngyuǎn shì yīwúsuǒyǒu
I forever have nothing to my name.

Ō……nǐ héshí gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! When will you go with me?

Ō……nǐ héshí gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! When will you go with me?

Gàosu nǐ wǒ děngle hěnjiǔ
I’m telling you I’ve waited a long time,

gàosu nǐ wǒ zuìhòu de yāoqiú
I’ll give you my final request,

wǒ yào zhuā qǐ nǐ de shuāng shǒu
I want to hold your hands,

nǐ zhè jiù gēn wǒ zǒu
and then you’ll come with me.

Zhèshí nǐ de shǒu zài chàndǒu
This time your hands are shaking,

zhèshí nǐ de lèi zài liú
this time your tears are flowing.

Mòfēi nǐ shì zài gàosu wǒ
Could it be that you’re telling me,

nǐ ài wǒ yīwúsuǒyǒu
you love me with nothing to me name?

Ō……nǐ zhè jiù gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! Now you will com with me!

Ō……nǐ zhè jiù gēn wǒ zǒu
Oh! Now you will come with me!

now i didn’t expect Shakespeare but this is not bad. The first character that stands out is the used in a few verses. I don’t recall seeing it before! According to the dictionary, it’s an adverb meaning who/what so 何时 would be what time and 为何 would be like a double why.. Did i get that right? Having met Lao Cui a few times, I don’t expect scholarly words out of him so am i right to assume that this is quite common talk/expressions?

Another one that i like is 莫非 (could it be/is it possible/) seems to mean Nobody/nothing but also an equivalent of (不要 Don’t Want or don’t) whereas has more meanings that there are degrees in a thermometer. How the hell do they combine into that new meaning?
So looking at at 莫非你是在告诉我, Could we say the same thing with 你真的在告诉我 to mean “are you really telling me this” ?

So.. that’s the beginning of Rock School.. more on 一无所有 this week. It’s a new format folks so if you have any suggestions, let me know.

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6 Responses

  1. Joshua says:

    Your analysis at the bottom is pretty much spot-on. The only thing I would change is that the use of 何 in questions actually gives the whole thing a more elevated tone, rather than a more colloquial one. Another small note: 这时 is more like “at this time” than “this time”, so it doesn’t imply that there have been times previous to this one. However, since the context of the lyrics makes clear that his question has been asked many times, translating it as “this time” actually makes a lot of sense. Good job!

    I’ve never actually listened carefully enough to capture all of the lyrics, so thanks for posting this. I agree, they are pretty damn good!

  2. Beijing Daze says:

    Thanks Josh.
    I didn’t really remember encountering 何many times before so that helps. any input as far as how 莫非 came about?

  3. Joshua says:

    I have no idea where it came from. Interesting thing though, in ancient times it also meant “There are none that are not”, so in that case the reason for the double negative is clear. The meaning used above is also pretty old. My dictionary has examples dating from the Yuan Dynasty. Sadly, it says nothing about how it came to mean that.

  4. Luke says:

    Nice article! I’ll be pissing people off with this at KTV from now on. Maybe you can do He Yong’s Jiu Gulou later.

  5. Luke says:

    Sorry, Zhong Gulou, not Jiu Gulou.

    • Beijing Daze says:

      oh.. that could be a good one! was looking at guniang guniang but zhong Gulou would work too.