Thursday, November 27, 2014

[Music] A Sound of Laughter Across the Blue-Green Sea -- James Wong

James Wong

1. The Hong Kong lyricist James Wong (1941 - 2004) passed away 10 years ago this week.

This music selection is to commemorate James Wong's 10th anniversary.

2. After the Second World War the main place for Cantonese music was Hong Kong with contributions from other Chinese communities in such Asian countries as Singapore and Malaysia.

Cantonese music has experienced a golden age from the late 1960s to the 1990s and has been in decline ever since.

(The golden age of Cantonese music more or less coincides with James Wong's career as a lyricist.)

But why is there a decline in Cantonese music?

There are three classes of people that contribute to the creation of a song:

(a) The composers that compose the music;

(b) The lyricists that write the lyrics; and

(c) The singers that sing the songs.

I do not believe that there is a lack of contemporary talents for composers and singers.

My hypothesis is that the decline is due to a dearth of Cantonese lyricists and that in turn has to do with the decline in the level of Chinese language in general and Cantonese culture in particular in Hong Kong.

3. The question then becomes: Why is there a decline in the level of Chinese language and Cantonese culture in Hong Kong?

I think there are at least three factors that lead to the decline: Cultural, economic, and political.

(a) The Chinese language is not an easy language to master and it underwent two major changes in the 20th Century.

Both changes were meant to modernize the Chinese language.

The first was to write Chinese in the vernacular instead of the classic style.

This change in written Chinese style was one of the major planks of the May 4th Movement of 1919.

The second was the introduction of Simplified Chinese characters by the Communist Government after 1949.

Both changes put Cantonese music lyrics under pressure.

James Wong's generation still knows their classic Chinese but not many of the contemporary lyricists do, and the lack of grounding by many contemporary lyricists in classic Chinese leads to a decline in the quality of Cantonese lyrics.

(b) In order to survive, post-World War 2 Hong Kong has become a city of finance and economics.

Of the four broad divisions of human learnings (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and formal sciences) the humanities have received the least attention by Hong Kong students and parents.

This is so because of the perception that studying the humanities will not lead to financial or economic payoff.

This trend is contrary to traditional Chinese culture with its emphasis on the humanities.

This deemphasizing of the humanities leads to a decline in the quality of Cantonese lyrics.

James Wong's generation grew up in a time before this deemphasizing of the humanities takes place.

(c) I live in Canada where multi-culturalism is celebrated.

Many western countries have a unity in basic values and are not afraid to celebrate their diversities.

It is not so with contemporary China.

Pre-1911 Chinese societies have been glued together by traditional values from Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.

Since the revolution of 1911 and for over 100 years, China has not been able to find the cultural glues to glue together its different regional cultures.

One of the most important constraint for any contemporary cultures and religions is to make peace with a free-market economy.

Western countries have more or less done so with its basic values rooted in Christianity and the Enlightenment.

Contemporary Islam is in the birth-pang of making peace with free-market economies and we are witnessing the birth pains.

China realize the problem but is at a loss of its cultural identity.

The traditional Confucianism, Taoism or Buddhism will not do since all three have yet to make peace with free-market economies; Marxism is a foreign import and not too many people really believe in it anymore.

It is because of the lack of agreement in basic values that the central government of China in Beijing fears the regional cultures.

With agreement in basic values, there can be unity in diversity and diversity in unity.

Without agreement in basic values, diversity may leads to disunity or worst, the breakup of the country.

It is because of this fear of disunity and breakup that China even suppresses its regional cultures.

Post-1997 Hong Kong attempted to teach secondary schools using Putonghua only instead of Cantonese and that policy failed.

Even so, students in post-1997 Hong Kong have to master (besides Cantonese and Traditional Chinese): Putonghua, Simplified Chinese and northern Chinese culture and this dilute the Cantonese culture in Hong Kong which in turn leads to its decline.

Another example: a few years ago, the central government dictated that news broadcast in Guangzhou must be read in Putonghua instead of Cantonese and that led to demonstrations and near riot.

The policies of the central government in Beijing towards the regional cultures have led to a decline in the quality of Cantonese lyrics.

4. Both the lyrics and the music for A Sound of Laughter Across the Blue-Green Sea ("滄海一聲笑") were composed by James Wong.

A Sound of Laughter Across the Blue-Green Sea was the theme song of the 1990 Hong Kong movie Swordsman ("笑傲江湖").

There are two versions of the song in the movie:

(a) A solo by Sam Hui; and

(b) A trio by Sam Hui, James Wong and Donald Cheung.

(Sam Hui was also one of the male leads of the movie.)

This song was also the theme song of the 1992 Hong Kong movie The Legend of the Swordsman ("笑傲江湖 II - 東方不敗").

Same song and same lyrics, but the singers this time were Olivia Chow and Roman Tam.

This song has since been cover by many singers, either in solo or in chorus.

5. I trust that anyone who reads Chinese will agree that the lyrics of this song are written in superb literary Chinese and yet understandable by the average person.

It is lyrics writing at its best.

The lyrics are also written with a very high artistic conception.

The title, for example, paints a picture of a solitary person beholding a blue-green lake (or sea or ocean) and hear a laughter coming from who knows where.

(Or: A solitary person beholding a blue-green lake and burst out a laughter at the water.)

The influence of the artistic conception is Taoist.

6. A Sound of Laughter Across the Blue-Green Sea in Cantonese by Roman Tam:

I start with this video because the images of the video matches the lyrics quite well.

Another one by Roman Tam:

7. The song in Putonghua by the trio James Wong, Tsui Hark, and Lo Da-Yu:

The singing is about right.

This song can be sung not only in the usual way, but also shout out from the bottom of the heart.

8. The song solo by James Wong in Cantonese:

9. James Wong lip-sing his own song in a theater production in 2003:

The songs starts at the 7:05 minutes mark:

Very funny dialogue!

10. The song by Sam Hui in Cantonese:

11. The song by Olivia Chow in Cantonese:

12. A cover by Hong Kong singer Adam Cheng in Cantonese:

13. Covers by the female mainland Chinese Dong Zhen in Putonghua:

14. A cover by Taiwanese singer Jam Hsiao in Mandarin:

I quite enjoy this lively alternate music arrangement.

15. A cover by the Taiwanese singer Richie Jen in Mandarin:

The singing is ok, but I do not know what the music video has anything to do with either the music or the lyrics.

16. The music by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra:

Surprisingly good.

17. The music in Guzheng:

Very good.

The over 1 million views are well deserved.

18. The music in Chinese Bamboo Flute:


19. The music in
Guzheng and Flute with Pipa (Chinese lute) and Free Reed Mouth Organ in the background:

Quite nice.

20. The music in Guqin:

I wish the volume is higher.

21. The music in Guitar:

Nice also.

22. Another good music version:

And many more in YouTube.

23. The Lyrics in Traditional Chinese:

滄海一聲笑 -- 黃霑

* 滄海一聲笑

# 蒼天笑

@ 江山笑


Repeat *, #, @



24. The Lyrics in Simplified Chinese:

沧海一声笑 -- 黄沾

* 沧海一声笑

# 苍天笑

@ 江山笑


Repeat *, #, @



25. Names, Words and Phrases:

Adam Cheng (Traditional Chinese: 鄭少秋; Simplified Chinese: 郑少秋).

Donald Cheung (Traditional: 張偉文; Simplified: 张伟文).

Dong Zhen (Traditional: 董貞; Simplified: 董贞).

Flute (Traditional: 笛; Simplified: 笛).

Free reed mouth organ (Traditional: 笙; Simplified: 笙).

Guitar (Traditional: 吉他; Simplified: 吉他).

Guqin (Traditional: 古琴; Simplified: 古琴).

Guzheng (Traditional: 古箏; Simplified: 古筝).

Jam Hsiao (Traditional: 蕭敬騰; Simplified: 萧敬腾).

James Wong (Traditional: 黃霑; Simplified: 黄沾).

Lo Da-Yu (Traditional: 羅大佑; Simplified: 罗大佑).

Olivia Chow (Traditional: 周小君; Simplified: 周小君).

Pipa (Traditional: 琵琶; Simplified: 琵琶).

Richie Jen (Traditional: 任賢齊; Simplified: 任贤齐).

Roman Tam (Traditional: 羅文; Simplified: 罗文).

Sam Hui (Traditional: 許冠傑; Simplified: 许冠杰).

The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (Traditional: 布拉格市愛樂樂團; Simplified: 布拉格市爱乐乐团).

Tsui Hark (Traditional: 徐克; Simplified: 徐克).


"James Wong (lyricist)", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
(accessed 2014-11-27).

"黃霑", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
(accessed 2014-11-27).

"笑傲江湖 (1990年電影)", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
(accessed 2014-11-27).

"笑傲江湖II東方不敗", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
(accessed 2014-11-27).