Feminism in China: “Cell Block Tango” Reinterpreted

cw: violence, abuse, misogyny

“天朝渣男图鉴” or “The Scumbags of China” is a parodic rendition of “Cell Block Tango” posted on Weibo in November, 2018.

There is a good chance that you’ve heard of the infamous “Cell Block Tango” song from the 1975 musical Chicago. In the scene, six women in jail recount the vengeful murders they committed, describing their mistreatment at the hands of their former partners. Loosely translated as “The Scumbags of China,” “天朝渣男图鉴” is a parodic rendition of “Cell Block Tango” by Tú Yǒuqín (徒有琴), a student at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. In the video Tú Yǒuqín plays six different women from six different cities in China, Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, Hunan, Guangdong, and Shandong. For each character, she slips into different dialects and recounts their acts of revenge against their abusive and misogynistic partners. While one woman recalls stumbling upon her husband’s notebook detailing his sexual exploits, another recalls being beaten by her husband.

“Cell Block Tango” from the 1975 musical Chicago

Posted on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo, in November 2018, the video roused conversation and debate about women’s rights and sexual and domestic abuse in China, contributing to a movement that has been gaining momentum in the past few years. The video was blocked and removed from the site not long after it was posted, speaking to how censorship has worked to silence and minimize the visibility of feminism in China. Nevertheless, the cultural and political impact of the music video cannot be undervalued.

I have been thinking about the significance of language, translation, and reinterpretation to the cultural and political impact of the music video. Representing six different regions of China, the six different dialects Tú Yǒuqín uses include Dongbei, Shanghai, Chonqing, Changsha, Shandong, and Cantonese. In re-appropriating an English song from an American musical, Tú Yǒuqín highlights the global phenomena of misogyny and barriers confronted by women everywhere. At the same time, her translation and reinterpretation of the song in multiple Chinese dialects serves to illuminate the distinctive lived experiences, oppression, and positioning of Chinese women in different regions of China. In this way, the “Chinese Cell Block Tango” is a testament and glimpse into the manifold languages of resistance and feminism across the world.

Full transcription and English translation for the song can be found here: https://supchina.com/2018/11/05/watch-tu-youqin-cell-block-tango-chinese-style/