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“夜来香” (“Evening Primrose”), a scent of modern Chinese history


(If you are inside China, your may want the same version hosted on Tudou).

This is 张燕 (Zhang Yan) performing “夜来香,” a modern Chinese classic. I can’t quite put my finger on why I think this video is really good – perhaps the confidence projected by 张燕. In English, “夜来香” means “evening primrose,” a flower that opens in the evening. The Chinese characters literally mean “fragrance of the night.” By the backdrop, many of you will recognize this is early 1900’s music – of the same variety in Shanghai nightclubs that time. The microphone is a big give-away. “夜来香” was actually first performed in the 1940’s by Yoshiko Yamaguchi. (Click here for the original.)

So, there is a bit of history behind the original singer worth mentioning. Yamaguchi was born in Manchuria (north eastern Chinese territory taken by Imperial Japan adjacent to Korea) to Japanese settlers. She was known in China and in Asia as 李香蘭 (Li XiangLan) prior to the end of World War 2. Her true identity and nationality came to the fore following defeat of Japan by the U.S. and the withdrawal of troops from China. She participated in many Japanese “National Policy Films” (国策映画), propaganda films promoting the Imperial Japanese “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere” ideology. (Wikipedia.org) For that, the Chinese government deported her to Japan at the end of WW2.

Interestingly, despite her notoriety, in 1942, she took part in an anti-British film commemorating the centennial of the Opium War. The film was a hit and made her widely known throughout China.

In 1942, Yoshiko (Yamaguchi’s subsequent married name) appeared in the film “Leaving a good name for posterity” (“萬世流芳”). The film was shot in Shanghai commemorating the centennial of the Opium War. A few top Chinese stars in Shanghai also appeared in the film and consequently endured the repercussion of controversy. The film was of anti-British nature and was a collaboration between Chinese and Japanese film companies. (Source: Wikipedia)

Here is Yamaguchi’s “Quiting opium” (“戒煙歌”) song which I also liked:

“夜来香” lyrics below:

那南風吹來清涼
那夜鶯啼聲悽愴
月下的花兒都入夢
只有那夜來香
吐露著芬芳

我愛這夜色茫茫
也愛著夜鶯歌唱
更愛那花一般的夢
擁抱著夜來香
吻著夜來香

夜來香
我為你歌唱
夜來香
我為你思量

啊 我為你歌唱
我為你思量

我愛這夜色茫茫
也愛著夜鶯歌唱
更愛那花一般的夢
擁抱著夜來香
吻著夜來香

我愛這夜色茫茫
也愛著夜鶯歌唱
更愛那花一般的夢
擁抱著夜來香
吻著夜來香

夜來香 夜來香 夜來香

  1. raffiaflower
    August 18th, 2010 at 19:48 | #1

    She was actually married to Isamu Noguchi, the American artist. Although Li Xianglan claims she was an accidental spy, unwittingly co-opted into movies with a propaganda slant, her role is controversial.
    What is indisputable is her musical legacy; she and Zhou Xuan are probably the greatest icons of shidai qu (contemporary/modern song) that began from the 30s/40s.
    Li XiangLan’s most famous Japanese song is probably Shina no Yoru; the use of Shina for China by Japan’s rightwing, such as Shintaro Ishihara (whom the author Harumi Murakami says “hates” China) has debased the word into a pejorative.
    It is also claimed, however, that the name has long been in regular use for the country. The tune is nice, tho.

  2. August 19th, 2010 at 01:38 | #2

    @raffiaflower

    Thx for weighing in with additional info about Li Xianglan.

  3. September 27th, 2011 at 06:20 | #3

    @raffiaflower
    If you’re interested in “Shina No Yoru”, I just posted the original 78rpm version by Watanabe Hamako on my blog : http://ceintsdebakelite.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/watanabe-hamako-shina-no-yoru-china-night-she-aint-got-no-yoyo/

    Greetings,

    Ceints de bakélite

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