Thanks to TikTok, a Mandarin language song from the ’80s is now bringing together Chinese aunties and Norwegian teens.
A 1983 classic, “Yi Jian Mei 一剪梅” — literally “A Spray of Plum Blossoms” — was originally the theme song for a namesake Taiwanese TV drama series. Beginning with a romantic line, “xue hua piao piao / bei feng xiao xiao,” the lyrics roughly translate to “the snowflakes flutter / the north wind blows.” Over decades, the tune has been widely popularized in the Chinese-speaking world, as Taiwanese singer Fei Yu-ching grew to become a household name in both Taiwan as well as mainland China.
Though Fei bid farewell to his audience when he retired in November, marking the end of his 47 year-long career, he would never have imagined the song to become a global internet sensation in just a few months. The 37-year-old Mandarin classic is, in fact, ranked one of the most viral songs on Spotify in Sweden, New Zealand, and Norway right now, with countless memes on social media from Gen-Z “fans.”
But how? The emergence of the meme was, like most TikTok sensations, random and weird. It all began with Zhang Aiqin, a livestreamer on Chinese short video platform Kwai, who recorded himself singing the tune in heavy snow back in January. With an egg-shaped head, Zhang’s unusual appearance has landed him a career in acting, as well as the nickname Duck Egg — or as he calls himself, Brother Egg. Viewers abroad soon picked up the 10-second clip and uploaded it to YouTube — and later Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Owing to the boredom of quarantine, the meme gained mainstream popularity by the end of May.
Zhang’s video had some 3 million views on Kwai. It has also gained traction in the Asian diaspora, as young Chinese Americans challenge their immigrant parents to read the lyrics without singing it out loud — but of course, because Fei’s song was so widely known among older generations of Mandarin speakers, they couldn’t help it.
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The Chinese internet, on the other hand, is baffled — and surprised — by this phenomenon, when some of the “Yi Jian Mei” memes are translated, subtitled, and reposted on social media. But many are also glad to see the song receive attention abroad — for whatever reason.
This isn’t the first time Fei, the singer, has become the subject of an internet meme, though last time it wasn’t about his music. In 2015, a video of him hosting a show in Taiwan resurfaced, in which he told dirty jokes on TV. While this was taboo in mainland China, the clips immediately gained popularity as Fei’s young audience embraced his humor and authenticity.
And here’s the original song performed by Fei Yu-ching:
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