Nov 18

“Father’s Prairie, Mother’s River” – the feelings of one billion people on the move

Written by dewang on Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 at 9:53 am
Filed under:culture, General, music, video |
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Everyone knows China is going through an industrial revolution right now. In developed countries such as the U.S., this took place in the late 19th century. The ratio between the number of rural and urban residents basically swapped because industrialization freed the bulk of the population from having to work in the fields to produce food for all. This phenomenon is occurring in China right now with her massive GDP growth in the last three decades. Despite the hundreds of millions of people having moved to urban areas, the number of Chinese citizens residing in the rural areas is still staggering – 750 million. If the final ratio is similar to other developed countries (which is likely), the scale of this population movement in the coming decades is mind-numbing. Imagine one billion people on the move in only a few decades!

A lot of Chinese people are going to be missing their prairies, farms, and villages. This song, titled, “父亲的草原母亲的河” (“Father’s Prairie, Mother’s River”), performed by 布仁巴雅尔 (Buren Bayaer), a Mongolian Chinese singer, readily resonates with the hundreds of millions of Chinese who have moved in the last three decades. It will continue to resonate for decades to come.

Equally, many “mother tongues” are going to be lost too, as the song laments. This phenomenon is easy to explain. In the U.S., many Americans who are descendants of immigrants usually loose the ability to speak their ancestors languages within one or two generations in favor of the official language, English. China has hundreds of dialects and thousands of accents. As they all converge in urban areas, they will predominantly speak the official dialect.

Many Chinese citizens visiting their parents at their old homes during the Chinese New Year will have this feeling.

The uploaded video, translation, and further info are courtesy of YallMeanMVP over at Youtube.com. According to YallMeanMVP, “the lyrics are adopted from a beautiful poem “Father’s Prairie, Mother’s River”(父亲的草原母亲的河), written by the renowned contemporary Mongolian Chinese writer/poetess 席慕容(Xi Murong).” (YallMeanMVP’s channel has a nice collection of Chinese videos and I recommend heading over for a look.)

YallMeanMVP: much thanks to yuluns for providing the translation:

Song/Poem Title:
Father’s Prairie, Mother’s River

词:席慕容 曲:乌兰托嘎
Lyrics/Poem: Xi Murong
Composer: ????

Father used to describe the fragrance of the prairie

A scent that followed him to the edges of the world

Mother always spoke of the turbulence of the river

Raging through the Mongolian steppes, my distant home

Now that I finally come to see this great land

Tears rain down my face as I stand on these fragrant prairies

The river sings of the prayers of the forefathers

Blessing the prodigal son to find his way home

Ah, father’s prairie

Ah, mother’s river

Though I can no longer express them in my mother tongue

Please accept my feelings of sorrow and joy

I, too, am a son of the steppes

There is a song in my heart

It sings of my father’s prairie and my mother’s river

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7 Responses to ““Father’s Prairie, Mother’s River” – the feelings of one billion people on the move”

  1. BMY Says:


    Thanks for sharing this beautiful song and poem. Some of the background scene could have not been overly computerized which is unnecessary.

    Mongolian steppes is the ancestral land for so many people cross Eurasian:Huns,Turks,Mongols who mostly either moved to mid-west Asia ,Europe or inland China during the long history.

  2. justkeeper Says:

    @BMY: A little-bit nitpicking here:1. We don’t have conclusive evidence to prove the Huns are the offsprings of Xiongnus yet.2. If by “Turks” you mean the Turkic people, then it should also include the Huns, otherwise I don’t recall any Turks residing in the Mongolian Steppe in the history.

  3. Berlin Says:

    Great post. On a different note: I think recently the massive migration from country to city is slowing down a little, partly due to the financial crisis that put migrant workers out of their jobs. There are more people taking lower-paying jobs near their hometowns now.

  4. Charles Liu Says:

    Berlin, thou it is true a year ago the economic meltdown spurred some migration back to the countryside, if I recall unskilled labor shortage in the costal area began 5 years ago for combination of reasons (economic development inland, rural income subsidy, farm tax reduction.)

    From my own experience some manufacturs in China were looking at Vietnam as early as 2006, well before the economic meltdown, due to rise in labor cost.

  5. tanjin Says:

    Here is the essay from David Brook on NYT that everyone has been talking about


    “When European settlers first came to North America, they saw flocks of geese so big that it took them 30 minutes to all take flight and forests that seemed to stretch to infinity. They came to two conclusions: that God’s plans for humanity could be completed here, and that they could get really rich in the process.

    This moral materialism fomented a certain sort of manic energy. Americans became famous for their energy and workaholism: for moving around, switching jobs, marrying and divorcing, creating new products and going off on righteous crusades.

    It may seem like an ephemeral thing, but this eschatological faith in the future has motivated generations of Americans, just as religious faith motivates a missionary. Pioneers and immigrants endured hardship in the present because of their confidence in future plenty. Entrepreneurs start up companies with an exaggerated sense of their chances of success. The faith is the molten core of the country’s dynamism.”

    ” There are also periodic crises of faith. Today, the rise of China is producing such a crisis. It is not only China’s economic growth rate that produces this anxiety. The deeper issue is spiritual. The Chinese, though members of a famously old civilization, seem to possess some of the vigor that once defined the U.S. The Chinese are now an astonishingly optimistic people. Eighty-six percent of Chinese believe their country is headed in the right direction, compared with 37 percent of Americans.

    The Chinese now have lavish faith in their scientific and technological potential. Newsweek and Intel just reported the results of their Global Innovation Survey. Only 22 percent of the Chinese believe their country is an innovation leader now, but 63 percent are confident that their country will be the global technology leader within 30 years. The majority of the Chinese believe that China will produce the next society-changing innovation, while only a third of Americans believe the next breakthrough will happen here, according to the survey.”

  6. BMY Says:

    Thanks for the correction.

    But most of the sources I’ve read agreed that Chinese term of XiongNu was referred to the same people called as Huns by others.

    The earliest record of the 突厥was hundreds of years after the disappearance of the Huns from Northern and middle Asia. To put the Huns as sort of Turkic is bit of confusing. After Turkic tribes moved from northern Asia to middle Asia and a group of them kept moving towards the west then defeated Byzantine empire and stayed where we call Turkey now. Actuarially many of the middle Asian Turkic people still call themselves Turks. No matter we call Turks or Turkic who can be all traced back to Altai mountains region.

    But I might be wrong.Sorry for the off topic, guys.

  7. dewang Says:

    Guys – thx for adding more texture to this thread. Here is a rendition of the same song by 腾格尔 (Teng Ge’er) during the 2004 Spring Festival show on CCTV. Most of you should recognize 腾格尔, another great Mongolian Chinese singer.

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