How is ‘Auld Lang Syne’ trans­lated?

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

One thing that has sur­prised me most since re­tire­ment as Taipei’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Italy in 2000 to re­sume teach­ing English in univer­si­ties in Taipei is that all of my grad­u­ate stu­dents ma­jor­ing in English and English literature can­not sing “Auld Lang Syne” in English. It is a Scots poem com­posed by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a tra­di­tional folk song. The song is well-known in prac­ti­cally all the coun­tries in the civ­i­lized world, its tra­di­tional use be­ing to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of mid­night. By ex­ten­sion, it is also sung at fu­ner­als, grad­u­a­tions and as a farewell or end­ing to other oc­ca­sions.

I asked the stu­dents whether they had been re­quired to read Burns’ poem in their un­der­grad­u­ate course of in­tro­duc­tion to English po­etry. Their an­swer, which also shocked me, was that their pro­fes­sors did not teach them. The like­li­est rea­son must be that the teach­ers did not know what “Auld Lang Syne” means. It is writ­ten in Scot­tish, and the teach­ers were prob­a­bly too lazy to try to find out what “Auld Lang


Syne” means in English. It means “Old Long Since,” or more id­iomat­i­cally, “Times Gone By.”

And I was re­ally shocked when I, by chance, told my sur­prise to an Amer­i­can pro­fes­sor at Fu Jen Catholic Univer­sity teach­ing com­par­a­tive law and he said he did not know what “Auld Lang Syne” meant in English ei­ther.

Well, all this shows how “Auld Lang Syne” is trans­lated in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. It is trans­lated as Li Ge ( ) or Farewell Song in Chi­nese, which ev­ery one of my stu­dents can sing. The Ja­panese, how­ever, have trans­lated it as Ho­taru-noHikari ( ) or Light of Fire­flies, sung on the oc­ca­sion of grad­u­a­tion from pri­mary school. The trans­lated verse which has lit­tle to do with the orig­i­nal poem is so named be­cause it starts with the light of fire­flies and snow piled on the win­dow, which Ni­nomiya Son­toku ( ), a 19th cen­tury Ja­panese philoso­pher and economist, is known to have used in sum­mer and win­ter to study late at night be­cause he could not af­ford lanterns.

It was the way the Ja­panese ed­u­ca­tion author­i­ties taught the im­por­tance of the Protes­tant work ethic. Meiji Ja­pan be­gan to teach the school­child­ren that hard work per se is ser­vice to their em­peror for mak­ing their coun­try rich and its mil­i­tary force strong (

), just as the Protes­tants were re­quired to work hard as ser­vice to God to make the United States the lead­ing power of the world in the 20th cen­tury.

Protes­tant Work Ethic and

Con­fu­cian Work Ethic

The Chi­nese chil­dren did not have to be taught in school to work hard. They used to be taught at home. The two ba­sic val­ues of life taught at home in Con­fu­cian China are hard work and fru­gal­ity, which have helped cre­ate the world’s old­est con­tin­u­ing civ­i­liza­tion. School­child­ren in Tai­wan, how­ever, are not so taught at home for their par­ents sim­ply don’t care.

This Chi­nese work ethic has to be taught in school now as Tai­wan is los­ing the val­ues of work­ing hard and sav­ing what you can. One glar­ing symp­tom of the loss is the day off de­creed by the three cities of Taipei, New Taipei and Keelung while Typhoon Du­juan was threat­en­ing to hit Tai­wan.

There were no days off for typhoons in pre-war Tai­wan. Stu- dents went to school and of­fices were open as usual. It re­mained the same af­ter Tai­wan was re­stored to the Re­pub­lic of China at the end of the Sec­ond World War in 1945. Un­til the gov­ern­ment be­gan to de­cree days off af­ter the war-dev­as­tated Tai­wan had be­come “rich” enough fol­low­ing its eco­nomic take­off that helped it work the eco­nomic mir­a­cle of the 20th cen­tury. It is now up to lo­cal gov­ern­ments to de­cide whether the peo­ple should stay at home when a trop­i­cal rain­storm is pos­ing to land to dev­as­tate Tai­wan.

No such days off are of­fered in typhoon-threat­ened Ja­pan. There is noth­ing fun­da­men­tally wrong with lo­cal gov­ern­ments fol­low­ing the Amer­i­cans of­fer­ing hur­ri­cane days off ex­cept that such rest days are given merely to please the lazy “made rich” public. Oh yes, most of our peo­ple have been sloth­ful and spend­thrift, con­vinced that they were born to en­joy life with­out hav­ing to earn it.

Weath­er­men like­wise pre­dict ev­ery cy­clone likely to sweep across Tai­wan as one big­ger and more dan­ger­ous than it ac­tu­ally is. One de­plorable re­sult was that peo­ple did not stay at home but turned out in droves to visit restau­rants, movie the­aters, and depart­ment stores to en­joy them­selves on the day Typhoon Du­juan was sup­posed to play havoc in the three cities. One crafty twist in the whole episode was that the three lo­cal gov­ern­ments, af­ter an­nounc­ing a half­day day off, re­versed their de­ci­sion to ac­qui­esce to an­gry de­mands for a full day of rest by ne­ti­zens who ranted against the doubt­ful author­i­ties. All three may­ors knew they should not buckle un­der pres­sure But they had to curry fa­vor with vot­ers, for it is elec­tion time. Vot­ers will go to the polls to elect their new pres­i­dent and a new Leg­isla­tive Yuan come next Jan. 16.

In the process, the three may­ors have done a great dis­ser­vice to Tai­wan that is un­der­go­ing an up­hill strug­gle to re­main a vi­able econ­omy. They have taught cit­i­zens to raise hell to get an ex­tra day off to en­joy them­selves. The teach­ing of the val­ues of hard work and fru­gal­ity, if started now, would take at least two decades to re­verse the unin­dus­tri­ous and spend­thrift trend. In the mean­time, would all lo­cal gov­ern­ments try to re­sist the temp­ta­tion of pleas­ing pam­pered vot­ers by de­cree­ing typhoon hol­i­days?

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