Translation of the “Xue Hua Piao Piao” Meme

When driving my son and two of his friends home from a fishing trip, I heard the three teenagers, two of them not Chinese speakers, break out singing “xue hua piao piao, bei feng xiao xiao”. That was one of the most popular songs in my childhood, as well as a karaoke favorite. Exactly how it made its way to West Texas is a mystery to me, but I am glad.

The song is the theme music for its namesake television drama as well as a defining piece for Yuqing Fei, who retired from his singing career in 2019. The title of the song is Yi Jian Mei, which used to be simply the name of a poetic template (词牌) that determines the number of lines in a poem, the number of characters in each line and the rhyming scheme, among other things, something like iambic pentameter, the heroic couplet or the format of a sonnet. The poetic template, one of many, was most popular in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Most of the templates have beautiful names, but they gradually lose their initial meaning and become simply memory aids for a particular form of poetry. Yi Jian Mei (一剪梅) originally means a bough of wintersweet flower, also known as the genus Chimonanthus, or winter flower, a glorious, fragrant flower native to China.

In this song, the lyrics describe a lover pursuing his love against all odds, including the wind, snow, and physical distance. The lyrics remind one of My Love Is Like a Red, Red Roseby Robert Burns, except that the wintersweet piece shows a more gritty type of love.

To a Chinese, wintersweet blossoming in winter in snow and ice conjures up thoughts about desperate situations and how we can handle them. Wintersweet blooms in winter. Pine, bamboo and wintersweet flowers are usually called the “three friends of winter” (岁寒三友). All of them do well in the cold, and they frequently become symbols of bravery and optimism in poetry and artwork to depict how the human spirit triumphs over adversity. This is the right song to be popular at a time when the world is experiencing unprecedented difficulties during the COVID-19 crisis.

At the current moment, there have been more than 11 million confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 536,000 deaths. Schools are suspended. Businesses are shut down. Jobs are lost. It is a time of extreme hardships for many around the world. Yet we endure, and we will triumph. Scientists and researchers in many countries are working around the clock to develop the medicines and methods to combat the virus that has wreaked havoc on livelihood and economies.

Wintersweet flowers are also harbingers of spring. They bloom from winter to the beginning of spring. I remember how we, as students at Nanjing University, used to travel to the wintersweet mountain (mei hua shan) in the suburbs of Nanjing to celebrate the coming of spring as we walked in the beauty and scent of the sweet flowers. I hope too that the world will eventually walk out of this season of recession and devastation to celebrate a time of renewed prosperity and solidarity.

That is probably one of the reasons this little song has been popular for decades. People have always experienced difficulties: earthquakes, floods, wars, recessions, and pandemics. At least to me, this song is more than about creating a meme on TikTok. The little song symbolizes to me how much we have gone through and how much more we can expect to hope for if we keep our heads together and our hands busy in creating solutions.

I saw that many people are searching for the meaning of the lyrics to no avail, so I translated the lyrics to the best of my ability. My translation below follows the following format: original Chinese, pinyin (for pronunciation of the characters) and the English translation.

That Wintersweet
yī jiǎn méi

Zhēnqíng xiàng cǎoyuán guǎngkuò
True love is like
a wide meadow

céng céng fēngyǔ bùnéng zǔgé
With wind
With snow
I still will go

zǒng yǒu yún kāi rì chū shíhòu
Clouds will disperse
The sun will shine

wànzhàng yángguāng zhàoyào nǐ wǒ
Gorgeous rays on
Both me and you

zhēnqíng xiàng méihuā kāiguò
True love is like
A winersweet bloom

lěng lěng bīngxuě bùnéng yānmò
Freezing snow and ice
Will not triumph

jiù zài zuì lěng zhī tóu zhànfàng
Those petals bloom
On chilly bough

kànjiàn chūntiān zǒuxiàng nǐ wǒ
Catchers of spring
For me and you

xuěhuā piāo piāo běi fēng xiāoxiāo
Snowflakes drift by
North wind howls on

tiāndì yīpiàn cāngmáng
What earth
What sky
One blur

yī jiǎn hánméi ào lì xuě zhōng
Petals on a cold bough
In the chilly snow

zhǐ wèi yīrén piāo xiāng
Sweet smell drifts toward
My love

ài wǒ suǒ ài wú yuàn wú huǐ
This love I have
Never will I regret

cǐ qíng cháng liúxīn jiān
That love will stay
On and on


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