The Song of the Yue Boatman () is a short song in an unknown language of southern China said to have been recorded around 528 BC. A transcription using Chinese characters, together with a Chinese version, is preserved in the ''Garden of Stories'' compiled by Liu Xiang five centuries later.


The song appears in a story within a story in the ''Shànshuō'' () chapter of the ''Garden of Stories''. A minister of the state of Chu relates an incident in which the 6th-century BC prince Zixi (子晳), the Lord of È (鄂), on an excursion on his state barge, was intrigued by the singing of his Yue boatman, and asked for an interpreter to translate it. It was a song of praise of the rural life, expressing the boatman's secret pleasure at knowing the prince: : On hearing this, the prince embraced the boatman and covered him with his embroidered coverlet. This is a metaphor for sexual congress according to the narrator, who is a minister who tells an attractive nobleman this story in order to convince him to let the minister hold his hand. The story became an emblem of same-sex romance. For example, it was included in the chapter on love between men in Feng Menglong's anthology ''Qing Shi'' (情史, 'History of Love', c. 1628–1630).

Yue text

The words of the original song were transcribed in 32 Chinese characters, each representing the sound of a foreign syllable: :濫兮抃草濫予昌枑澤予昌州州州焉乎秦胥胥縵予乎昭澶秦踰滲惿隨河湖 As with the similarly recorded Pai-lang songs, interpretation is complicated by uncertainty about the sounds of Old Chinese represented by the characters. In 1981, the linguist Wei Qingwen proposed an interpretation by comparing the words of the song with several Tai languages, particularly Zhuang varieties spoken today in Guangxi province. Building on Wei's work, Zhengzhang Shangfang produced a version in written Thai (dating from the late 13th century) as the closest available approximation to the original language, using his own reconstruction of Old Chinese. Both Wei's and Zhengzhang's interpretations correspond loosely to the original 54-character Chinese rendition, and lack counterparts of the third and ninth lines of the Chinese version. Zhengzhang suggests that these lines were added during the composition of the Chinese version to fit the ''Chu Ci'' poetic style. Zhengzhang's interpretation remains controversial, both because of the gap of nearly two millennia between the date of the song and written Thai and because Thai belongs to the more geographically distant Southwestern Tai languages. Qin Xiaohang has argued that although the transcription does not represent a true writing system for the non-Chinese language, such transcription practice formed the basis of the later development of the Sawndip script for Zhuang.



External links

''Shuoyuan'' 11.13
CText project. {{Chinese poetry Category:Chinese poems Category:Chinese literature Category:Unsolved problems in linguistics Category:LGBT history in China Category:6th-century BC works Category:LGBT poetry