Folk-rock Band “Slap” Melds Ming Dynasty Fiction with Shrewd Social Satire

A performance video of “Red Child’s Eighteen Wins,” a January 2023 song by the folk-rock band Slap (耳光乐队, Erguang Yuedui), has been attracting much attention lately on Chinese social media and Chinese Twitter. The folk tune combines iconic characters and scenes from the classical Ming Dynasty novel “Journey to the West” with biting satirical commentary on current and recent events in China and the world.

The extensive lyrics—detailing 18 so-called “wins”—are chock-full of familiar references to the events of the past several years. There are sly mentions of China’s now-abandoned “dynamic zero-COVID” policy, the mysterious China Eastern Airlines crash, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, Nancy Pelosi’s contentious visit to Taiwan, Henan’s rural banking crisis, the “exodus” of disgruntled Foxconn employees, the Guizhou bus crash, the building fire in Urumqi that killed at least 10 people, Peng Lifa’s daring political protest on Beijing’s Sitong Bridge, and the nationwide “White Paper” protests against political repression and excessive COVID controls. Along with well-known fictional characters from “Journey to the West” such as Red Boy (Red Child), Sun Wukong the Monkey King, the monk Tang Sanzang (Tripitaka), and many more, the song is peppered with real-life contemporary characters straight out of the headlines. Some are sympathetic: there is Second Uncle of viral video fame, the mentally ill mother-of-eight who was shackled in Jiangsu, the women who were brutally beaten by gangsters at a Tangshan BBQ restaurant, the missing student Hu Xinyu, and the three-year-old boy from Lanzhou who died due to delayed treatment under COVID controls. Others are more clearly cast as villains: the privileged and controversial Olympic skier Eileen Gu, the Tiantongyuan neighborhood committee members who noted that a man’s son was his “weak spot,” the tone-deaf Zhengzhou community secretary Liu Hongying (who, at the height of the pandemic, whined about missing her daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony), and the BMW driver who plowed into a crowd of people in Guangzhou.

Formed in 1998 in Baoding, Hebei province, Slap are a fiercely independent band known for their “new folkloric” (新民俗主义, xin minsu zhuyi) musical stylings and incisive lyrics. Despite being unsigned to any major label, they have performed often in Beijing and other cities, and have toured widely. A recent lineup features lead singer Zhao Yuepeng, guitarists Wang Dong and Zhou Kun, bassist Zhang He, and drummer Nie Bing. The band has written a series of eighteen songs focused around social issues, and these videos are available on YouTube, although some have been banned on major Chinese media platforms. The tune “Red Child’s Eighteen Wins” appears to have been censored as well: a Chinese-language search for the band name and song title on Weibo currently yields no results.

CDT has translated portions of the lyrics—and added some explanatory links—from the song in the performance video above, “Red Child’s Eighteen Wins:

Red Child is a sage young princeling
whose real name is Niu Shengying
His parents, the Bull Demon King and Princess Iron Fan,
pampered and spoiled him,
which is why he’s a three-hundred-year-old adolescent
The denizens of Fire Cloud Cave are oft subjected to his wiles
The Gods of Earth and Mountains are accustomed to his pranks
Now everyone’s got Stockholm Syndrome
Red Child suffers from delusions of persecution
In the Child’s world, all he does is win, win, win

(musical interlude)

That year, the monk and his disciples came to Fire Cloud Cave
to save the Gods of Earth and Mountains,
but the Gods weren’t grateful enough
So Red Child threw a fit
and went to war against the Monkey King
You’d better not impede our
“Fire Cloud Cave dynamic zero-COVID(applause)
The monk and his disciples are lying-flatbandit vermin
The God of the Earth said, “If you’re not rich
don’t go around beating folks, pretending you’re Wang Sicong(applause)
In Fire Cloud Cave, we’ve got our
very own experts to help us win, win, win
Why would we let a foreign monk
like you chant the sutras? (applause)

[…] A fifth win for your social status
a sixth win for your social gaps
Let’s comment on the marvelous work
of those gentlemen on “China Standard Time(applause)
Girls are kept out of college,
family structures are medieval
Women worldwide chop their hair in solidarity (applause)
A mother of eight is shackled and chained
A scumbag who burned his wife is sentenced to death
You can’t say Tangshan’s like Gotham City
because at least Gotham’s got a Batman. (massive applause)

(musical interlude)

[…] Counting nine wins means you’re stupid,
Ten wins makes me smart
Think about which things in life
are important, and which aren’t—
A three-year-old died of carbon monoxide poisoning
He had no COVID test, so they wouldn’t let him through
Those three pandemic years were his whole life (applause)
Secretary Liu missed her daughter’s
coming-of-age party, boo hoo hoo
A one-year-old baby never had a COVID test
so they let him choke to death
“Negative or positive” is all some folks can see
but what they need is some humanity
(massive applause, shouts from audience)

(musical interlude)

[…] Red Child’s eighteen wins are all down to
science, technology, and hard work
Thanks for wasting three years “protecting” me
though it still sends a shiver down my spine
Liu Bo, my bosom friend,
I swear I’ll defend you to the death! (applause)
I’ll never forget the fire, or the bus crash
or all that was covered up
Like a lone warrior walking into darkness
Hear the birth of these Great Works
Chuckle that we’re lucky to be
born into this Great New Era (applause)
30% is destiny and 70% is down to hard work
Hard work wins out in the end … [Chinese]

Due to online censorship, many initial comments about the song have been deleted from Weibo and other social media platforms. CDT Chinese editors were able to collect some Twitter comments about the song, some of which are translated below:

XiJPDynasty: Its incisive lyrics hit straight at the heart of problems in our society, prompting people to think and reflect, and to examine social phenomena more closely. […]

vivianzheng333: I couldn’t help but feel sad when he sang that part about “Batman.”

straycat_au: This is a bold gambit, risking the second half of your life by “rushing at the ramparts” of power. Respect.

yaoyaoio: The past three years are still as clear as day.

ljbdba: That phrase “Hard work wins out in the end” has some profound meaning behind it. [It is the title of a 1988 Hakka pop song by Taiwanese singer-composer Baitang Chen.]

cuixufeng50: Who trembled when they heard this? Who was moved to tears? Who felt enraged? [Chinese]

Another of the band’s songs, “How Should We Spend Our Lives?” was featured in an October 13, 2021 performance at 46 LiveHouse in Changsha, Hunan province. A portion of the lyrics from that song are translated below:

How should we spend our lives?
Do we sow and reap just for ourselves,
or work ourselves to death for others?
Do we savor life in the moment,
or suffer for the sake of the future?
Do we pass down our achievements to the next generation,
or leave behind a name the world will remember?

No one has the perfect answer
Everyone has the final say
No one gets a do-over
Everyone gets to live their life

How should we spend our lives?
How will you spend your life?
How should we spend our lives? (repeat)
If we had the chance to do it all again,
how would we spend our lives? [Chinese]

The band’s Twitter bio (@1998slap) describes them thus: “耳光乐队 (Erguang Yuedui, “Slap”), formed in 1998. Creators of modern fables, performers of absurdist drama, counter-currents to the mainstream, bohemian travelers amongst fellow peons, drifters, and dross.”


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