The Wandering Songstress

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"The Wandering Songstress"
Song by Zhou Xuan
Released 1937
Genre Shidaiqu
Length 2:31
Composer(s) He Luting
Lyricist(s) Tian Han

"Tianya genü" (Chinese: 天涯歌女; pinyin: Tiānyá gēnǚ), or "The Wandering Songstress", is one of two theme songs from the 1937 Chinese film Street Angel; the other being the "Four Seasons Song" (Chinese: 四季歌; pinyin: Sì jì gē). It was composed by He Luting based on an older Suzhou ballad, with lyrics by Tian Han.[1][2] The song was sung by Zhou Xuan in the film, playing the role of Xiao Hong.[3][4]

It is one of the most notable of the Chinese popular songs from the 30s and 40s, and has been described as a song that has "a lingering fame" in China like "As Time Goes By" from the 1942 film Casablanca in the United States.[5] The song has also been described as "a classic Chinese love song".

Song title[edit]

Zhou Xuan singing "The Wandering Songstress" in Street Angel

In the film, this song was called "Tianya Ge", "The Wandering Song" (Chinese: 天涯歌; pinyin: Tiānyá gē), but became better known as "Tianya Genü". "Tianya Genü" has been translated in various English sources as "The Wandering Songstress",[6][7] "Singing Girl",[8] "The Songstress of the World",[9] "The Wandering Singer",[10] "Singer at the Sky Edge",[11] and "Singing Girl at the Edge of the World".[12] The varying translations came from the different possible readings of the song title. "Tianya" (Chinese: 天涯) literally means "sky horizon" that carries the meaning of "at the end of the world", but within the context of the song it also has the figurative meanings of "separation by a long distance" from the phrase "tianya haijiao" (天涯海角) which is part of the lyrics that describe someone seeking to find her intended.[13][14]

Composition and orchestration[edit]

According to the composer He Luting, the director of the film Street Angel found two urban folk ballads from Suzhou he wanted to use on the film, "Crying on the Seventh Seven Day Cycle" (哭七七) and "One Who Knows Me Well" (知心客), which He Luting then adapted to become "Song of the Four Season" (四季歌) and "The Wandering Songstress" respectively.[15][16] The songs were arranged according to principles of Western music composition.[17]

"The Wandering Songstress" was performed in a traditional Chinese vocal style, accompanied by Chinese music instruments such as erhu, pipa, and sanxian in the manner of a Jiangnan ballad. According to He, the recording was done quickly as Zhou Xuan grasped the idea of how the song should be performed very quickly.[18]

Popular Usage[edit]

"The Wandering Songstress" is often used in film soundtracks, usually in Chinese language films, but also in some Western language films, for example in the 2006 ensemble film Paris, je t'aime and its 2009 sequel, New York, I Love You.[19][20][21][22]

One of its most notable uses in films is in Ang Lee's 2007 film Lust, Caution, in which it is sung by Tang Wei who played the role of Wong Chia Chi.

When it is used in the film Lust, Caution, its "pathos and poignancy" is strengthened by the evidence of the Japanese occupation in the film's setting.[23] The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas says the song's use in Street Angel was an attempt to replace "the old 'vulgar' connotations of shidaiqu with feelings of national awareness", while its use in Lust, Caution was "a defiant expression" of shidaiqu under Japanese occupation.[24]

Cover versions[edit]

The song has been covered by numerous singers, including Li Xianglan in the 1944 Japanese film Yasen gungakutai (野戦軍楽隊, Military Combat Music Band), Bai Guang, Teresa Teng, Tsai Chin, Wakin Chau, Adia Chan (in Cantonese), Lin Bao (林寶, in Wu dialect), Song Zuying, Zhang Yan (張燕).


  1. ^ Darrell William Davis (2013). "Chapter 23 - Marriage of Convenience: Musical moments in Chinese movies". In Carlos Rojas, Eileen Chow. The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas. Oxford University Press. p. 443. ISBN 978-0199765607. 
  2. ^ 洪芳怡 (2008). 天涯歌女: 周璇與她的歌 (The Wondering Songstress: Zhou Xuan and her songs). 秀威出版. p. 122. ISBN 9789866732737. 
  3. ^ YAndrew F. Jones ellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity - 2001 - Page 134 "Indeed, Zhou Xuan's two musical sequences in the film, Song of the Seasons (Siji ge) and Sing-Song Girl at the Ends of the Earth (Tianya genü) by ...
  4. ^ 中國婦女傳記詞典 - Lily Xiao Hong Lee, A. D. Stefanowska, Sue Wiles - 2003 Page 716-"Outstanding also are the two songs performed in the film by Zhou Xuan: “Four Seasons” (Siji ge) and “Songstress at the End of the World” (Tianya genü), with lyrics by Tian Han. These beautiful songs were extremely popular at the time and ...
  5. ^ Silbergeld, Jerome (2012). "From Mountain Songs to Silvery Moonlight: Some Notes on Music in Chinese Cinema". In Zhang, Yingjin. A Companion to Chinese Cinema. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 418. ISBN 978-1-4443-3029-8. 
  6. ^ Ang, Christina (May 26, 2011). "Macho Chau discovers his feminine side". Asia One. 
  7. ^ "Shanghai Will Play on the World's Stage". CRI English. June 29, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Musical "Zhou Xuan" Stages Beijing Tonight". China Daily. May 19, 2005. 
  9. ^ Lim, Louisa (December 5, 2009). "Loving the past". The Star. 
  10. ^ Wong, Johnni (August 29, 2004). "Eternal allure of Zhou Xuan". The Star. 
  11. ^ Chuah, Gerald (August 18, 2004). "Memories of old Shanghai night". "Hot & Happening" section. 
  12. ^ "Echoes of a 'golden voice'". Shanghai Daily. January 27, 2005. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. 
  13. ^ "天涯海角".  Note: Comes from a Tang Dynasty poem by Lü Yan - 天涯海角人求我,行到天涯不见人。
  14. ^ A Critical History of New Music in China - Page 256 Jingzhi Liu - 2010 ".. duets and rounds, including the famous Siji ge [Song of four seasons], Tianya genü [Wandering sing-song girl], Qiushui yiren [Longing for her love], Jialing jiang shang [On the banks of the Jialing River], Pusa man [To the tune of Pusa man], ...
  15. ^ 洪芳怡. 天涯歌女: 周璇與她的歌. 秀威出版. pp. 44–45. ISBN 9789866732737. 
  16. ^ 陈浩望 (1999). "贺绿汀回忆聂耳和周璇". 音乐天地. 
  17. ^ Joys Hoi Yan Cheung (2011). Chinese Music and Translated Modernity in Shanghai, 1918--1937. Proquest, Umi Dissertation Publishing. p. 174. ISBN 978-1243526014. 
  18. ^ "周璿曾想隨賀綠汀去解放區". 華聲在線. 2012-08-08. 
  19. ^ "New York, I Love You Soundtrack". 
  20. ^ "Paris, je t'aime (2006) - Soundtracks". IMDb. 
  21. ^ Yau Shuk-Ting Kinnia - East Asian Cinema and Cultural Heritage: From China, Hong Kong 2011 "He Luting (1903—1999), head of Shanghai Conservatory of Music since 1949, first achieved fame in the movie industry by composing the sound track and arranging the accompaniment for Zhou Xuan's (1919—1957) evergreen Tianya genu' ...
  22. ^ Historical Dictionary of Modern Chinese Literature -Li-hua Ying - 2009 Page 153 "Tianya genu' (A Female Street Singer), Qingming shijie (At the Qingming Festival ), Xin taohua shan (A New Version of the Peach-Blossom Fan), and Yehuo chunfeng (Blustery Wind and Wildfire in Spring) are among his most memorable films.
  23. ^ Bracken, Gregory (2013). The Shanghai Alleyway House: A Vanishing Urban Vernacular. Routledge. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-415-64071-8. 
  24. ^ Rojas, Carlos; Chow, Eileen, eds. (2013). "A marriage of convenience: Musical moments in Chinese movies". The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinema. Oxford University Press. p. 443. ISBN 978-0-19-976560-7.