(header illustrations by Zhao Wangyun 1954-60, “Xibei” school)
Here are two clips of the same (vocalist)’s version of the song Lanhuahua. I think at least two views of the same material is in order here since the Chinese ‘net carries at least 15 different performance clips. And
The Ballad here extracted and reedited forms the (off-screen) pre-story of the 1985 epoch-making film Yellow Earth, though not much attention has been given to that relationship. Is this escape perhaps yet another execution of the film’s major trope: (folk) song as or if authentic eludes capture because it quite literally cannot be (over)heard: what the propaganda missionaries CAN hear is only what they WISH to hear, (re)-editable materials just waiting for a tweak to become hymn?
Certainly the writer (Ke Lan) whose own memoirs (1940-ish) of excursing the wildernesses of N. Shaanxi provide the story line cannot STOP hearing the song in question: try as he might he cannot hush the voice carried in the echoes that sings the song in question. So we have a strange twist, the song that the source story was “about” is never heard or quoted.
Its name is 蓝花花 (Lanhuahua) or “Girl wearing the newly wed maid’s headcloth of indigo stamp” (it is NOT “Astor or Orchid, as it is usually (mis) translated: The lanhuahuapattern is visible on the cotton-wadded overjacket worn by the actress. (Who by the way is to be taken as audience for the tale, never singer). It is the pre-story or prediction tale on which the film’s narrative is based. And which serves as a confession of guilt or worse by a Party-delegated folksong collector/editor. From it grows a sense of misunderstanding and tragedy that even the non-Sino-versatile foreigner will be moved by.