A song produced by Chinese state media celebrating the anniversary of the Hong Kong Handover has been caught in a language blunder. The lyrics were written in Mandarin, but are not appropriate for performing in Cantonese.

Xinhua published the song “My Hong Kong” on its Facebook page – first shared its Mandarin version on June 30, hours before the anniversary. It was performed by a young mainland singer, and received around 1,400 views.

hong kong cantonese
Photo: Xinhua screenshot.

But the song’s Cantonese version, published the next day, attracted three times more viewers.

It was sung by Cheung Ming-man and his son. Cheung is Hongkonger nicknamed the “patriotic singer,” since he is well-known for singing patriotic Mandarin songs.

The lyrics of the two songs were the same in their entirety, although a small rapping interlude was excluded from the Cantonese version. Viewers, however, soon noticed that the lyrics did not work when sung in Cantonese.

Both Mandarin and Cantonese are tonal languages, but Cantonese has two tones more than Mandarin. Even with the same melody, two separate sets of lyrics in Mandarin and Cantonese respectively would usually be needed.

YouTube video

The lyrics also contains sentences written with a Mandarin structure – a structure which Cantonese speakers would rarely use and would feel odd.

“Forcibly singing Mandarin lyrics in Cantonese, forcing Hong Kong to use the Chinese model – this one song summarises the 20th anniversary of the Handover,” said one commentator. “It’s all out of tune.”

“The meanings of the lyrics are good. But the singing is awful,” another said.

“If I don’t look at the lyrics I don’t even know which language is being sung,” a third commentator said.

Cheung is a member of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and had served as a member of the Hong Kong delegation to the National People’s Congress.

Xinhua removed both the Mandarin and Cantonese version of the video on Facebook on July 4, apparently following a complaint from a Hong Kong videographer who claimed the video used his footage without permission. However, the clip may still be viewed on mainland websites.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.