As in every year, the Chinese embassy of Budapest has organized the Lunar New Year celebrations for the Chinese elite in Hungary. The program was similar to the previous years. As always, the amateur dance group, choir and band of the Chinese living in Budapest came to stage, and the highlight of the evening, as usual, were the dozen of artists – actors, singers, illusionist, shadow player, acrobat – invited directly from Beijing.
However, in this year the celebrations had some unusual elements as well.
First of all, the festival was not organized in a second rate theater near to the Chinese Embassy or in a Chinese neighborhood like for example the Stefania Palace last year. But in an institution which is regarded as a top class concert hall also by the most refined Hungarian public: the Palace of Arts.
The leaflet of the album was printed for the first time in two languages, also in Hungarian besides the Chinese original, although we hardly saw one or two Hungarians among the public.
In addition, the Beijing guests too were of higher caliber than in the previous years, including singer Dong Wenhua 董文华, singer-actor Cai Guoqing 菜国庆 and singer-actress Yang Jiuhong 杨九红 (here to the left) among others. Their popularity was well measured by the applause greeting them.
As always, each singer’s repertoire included a patriotic song: My China, My Chinese heart, My homeland, My homeland and me. However, at the same time each of them emphasized in their salutatory speeches how beautiful city Budapest was, how happy they were to be here and how much they would like to return to Hungary on a future occasion. This was something new, as until the last year the greetings of the guests addressed only the local Chinese community.
The Chinese-Hungarian friendship was also a central theme of the official welcome speeches delivered by the Ambassador as well as by the representatives of the local Chinese economic elite.
Everything has pointed to China’s having officially announced a policy of opening and cultural rapprochement in the Year of the Tiger, transcending the earlier isolation of the local Chinese community. And this is something very promising to Hungary as well.
The opening piece of the program conveyed this message in a spectacular and emblematic form. An odd band lined up on the stage: a contrabass, a dulcimer, a violin and a saxophone encircled the two most aristocratic instruments of classical Chinese music, guzheng and pipa, Chinese zither and lute. The musicians started some peculiar but nevertheless somehow familiar Eastern pentatonic tune, and after the introduction the Chinese female vocalist sang the Hungarian folk song A csitári hegyek alatt (Under the mountains of Csitár) – in an exceptionally great voice and with an almost perfect Hungarian accent. Then the band played some fantastic world music – a genre rarely heard of Chinese musicians –, including French chansons with pipa solos, and at the end they sang another, very popular Hungarian folk song, Tavaszi szél vizet áraszt (Spring breeze water spreads) in a traditional Chinese arrangement.
I will by all means try to have a copy of the video from the Embassy and to publish it here. Until then let me insert three versions of the “spring breeze spreading water”. The first is the one sung in Hungarian as a surprise song by Freddie Mercury on the Budapest concert of Queen in 1986 (when this song also had some revolutionary overtones in Hungary). The second is the same song performed a capella by the Vietnamese girl pop group Năm Dòng Kẻ on a recent concert in Budapest. And the third is the poem Spring water spreading written by the Tang period poet Du Fu (712-759), a contemporary of Wang Wei, which also has the impression of a folk song. We translated it now for the first time for the Hungarian readers.
|Tavaszi szél vizet áraszt|
minden madár társat választ
Hát én immár kit válasszak
te engemet, én tégedet
|Spring breeze water spreads|
my flower, my flower
every bird is choosing a mate
my flower, my flower.
Oh who I am going to choose
my flower, my flower
I will choose you, you will choose me
my flower, my flower.
chūn shuĭ shēng
yī yè shuĭ gāo èr chĭ qiáng
shù rì bù kĕ gèng jìn dāng
nán shì jīn tóu yŏu chuán mài
wú qián jí măi jì lí páng
spring water spreading
in one night the water has risen two feet
some more days and the river will flood
boats are for sale at the southern harbor
with no money how shall I link one to my gate?
Some hours after the publication of the Hungarian version of this post our readers sent us two very apposite Lunar New Year’s gift. Két Sheng has called our attention to the spring advertisement of the internet provider T-Home with Freddie Mercury sending his message from the already eternal spring, where his fans can sing together with him the Tavaszi szél vizet áraszt on their own home videos uploaded to the company’s site.
On the other, much more touching amateur video some former Vietnamese students – who at the time of Communism studied in a great number in Hungary – sing in Vietnamese the Hungarian folk song A csitári hegyek alatt, the opening song of the recent Chinese Lunar Year’s celebrations. Although the video was probably made not long ago, the faces, clothes, gestures and homes recall Hungary of the 70’s when those students most probably learned and translated the song. A veritable time travel.
I remember, Péter told me that in Vietnam of the 80’s the most popular book had been the Hungarian historical novel Egri csillagok (Stars of Eger, also translated as Eclipse of the Crescent Moon), describing how in 1552 two thousand Hungarian heroes defended the fortress of Eger against the Turkish army of 200 thousand. The Vietnamese children played war in the person of the novel’s brave Hungarian soldiers István Dobó and Gergely Bornemissza. The Vietnamese read the history of the heroes of Eger overcoming the superior number as an epic poem about their own heroic persistence in the war against America.
This video has been also uploaded to the Vietnamese forum “Vietnamese soldiers in Hungary” (bearing a Hungarian title!) where people also translate poems of sublime Hungarian poet Attila József, nostalgically listen to videos of Pál Szécsi, popular singer of the 70’s, and in their signatures use slogans like “When I came home, my heart was left forever in Budapest.” A more beautiful Lunar New Year’s gift than this we could have not even imagined to ourselves.