Few opening lines in Mandopop history pack the same punch like “Our names are not Xiao Juan / The alias is our last defense.”
The story of women facing physical and psychological abuse is not an easy one to swallow, and Tán Wéiwéi 谭维维, a Chinese singer who is known for her outspokenness on social justice issues, doesn’t sweeten any of the details in her latest single, “Xiao Juan” (小娟 xiǎojuān).
A powerful, heartbreaking anthem, the song explicitly highlights the pervasive problem of violence against women in China. Singing from the perspective of Xiao Juan, a common pseudonym used in Chinese media for unidentified or anonymous survivors of domestic abuse, Tan reckons with the unfair treatment of the victims and the lack of repercussions for their perpetrators, all while telling specific tales of women being assaulted by “fists, gasoline, and sulfuric acid.”
For listeners familiar with the topic, it should take no time to find “parallels between its lyrics and several real-life incidents of violence against women,” Sixth Tone wrote. The not-so-vague references made in the song include the gruesome killing of Lhamo 拉姆, who suffered years of intimate partner violence before her ex-husband lit her on fire in September, and the grisly murder of a woman in Hangzhou, whose remains were discovered in a septic tank after her husband killed and dismembered her.
“Erase our names, forget our beings / The same tragedy continues and repeats,” Tan sings. “Lock up our bodies, cut off our tongues / And silently use our tears to weave a silk brocade.”
The lyrics continue, “Know my name, and remember it / When can we put the tragedy to an end?”
The song is the final track of Tan’s newest album, 3811, which she described as an “extra-long train that drives through the journey of women’s destiny, generation after generation.” With each of the 11 songs chronicling stories of women from different backgrounds — from an illiterate elderly woman marginalized by society to an agonized lover tortured by unrequited love — the album sheds rare light on the current situation of Chinese women. It’s a call for empathy, a declaration of support, and a rage-induced protest.
Released on December 11, “Xiao Juan” was an immediate success. On Chinese social media, Tan has been showered with praise for speaking out against an uncomfortable social issue through her music and setting a good example of how to use art to change society. On the day of the song’s release, Tan wrote (in Chinese) on Weibo, “It’s not about bravery. It’s about a sense of responsibility.”
China Digital Times has translated the lyrics of Tan’s album in their entirety.