Music plays a very significant role in human life. It not only brings auditory enjoyment to the audience but also has profound social impacts. Some songs can express the voice of certain social groups and exert an influence on them. The song I chose for Project #1, Guangdong ten-year love story, is such a song. In this blog, I will show that Guangdong ten-year love story is an ethnographic song for the Chinese migrant workers that rouses the migrant workers’ compassion and changes others’ prejudice on this group.

Guangdong ten-year love story demonstrated the music’s potential as a carrier of ethnography. In Amanda Weidman’s Voice, she argues that vocalization is a creative expression of social and cultural identity. The author suggests that the politicians speaking Tamil in South India used their especial language and speech style to generate their persuasion and political power. Because of the special language and style choice, such speeches demonstrate the politicians’ background, conveying their social and cultural identity to the audiences. Just as Indian people use the Tamil language to express their authority, Chinese people also have an especial voice that can express their social identity, the Cantonese Mandarin accent. During the process of urbanization in China since 1978, an accent called the Cantonese Mandarin emerged in the Guangdong province. Before 1978, most people in Guangdong used Cantonese as their first language. During the 1978 economic reform, some coastal fishing villages, such as Shenzhen, suddenly became big cities. Many northern businessmen went to Guangdong and invested there. To better communicate with them, the major language used in cities was Mandarin. The process of urbanization also brought huge opportunities for occupations and wealth in cities, attracting the rural populations to work in cities, becoming migrant workers. These rural populations had spoken Cantonese since they were born and didn’t receive the standard education of Mandarin. Hence, the language they used in cities had a unique accent. Chinese people called this accent Cantonese Mandarin. And it is the signature of the migrant workers’ voices.

The singer of Guangdong ten-year love story was one of these migrant workers using Cantonese Mandarin. He was born in a small village called Niutou Village in Guangdong Province and went to work in Shenzhen when he was young. To demonstrate his identity as a migrant worker, he uses Mandarin and Cantonese alternately in this song. Moreover, his Mandarin is not standard. For instance, he pronounced “Zou” as “Zhou” and pronounced “Gan” more like “Gang”. The singer’s accent was exactly the Cantonese Mandarin. Thus, through the language and accent, the singer subtly showed his past of migrating and working in a big city from a rural place. Hence, the audiences could associate his singing with the group of migrant workers’ voices. So, the singer’s language allows the song to speak for the migrant workers, becoming a carrier of ethnography.

The identity displayed by the singer’s voice and the sincere emotions embodied in the lyrics roused the sense of compassion among the migrant workers from all over China. In Zhihu Forum, a Chinese online forum for evaluating various things, many netizens thought this song’s emotions were genuine and shared their experiences about migrant workers. One netizen posted that when he went to Guangdong, he saw many young people of Generation Z had to work in garment factories and electronics factories because their family was too poor to afford the high school tuition. When the poster chatted with them, they told him in Cantonese Mandarin that their monthly salary was only about 500 dollars. Their happiest thing was to have dinner with their partners at a small restaurant after work. However, because they were poor, most of them couldn’t plan their marriage and separated in the end. The poster felt very pity for these young migrant workers. He indicated that the singer’s accent reminded him of these young people, and he believed the lyrics that “Leave quietly and be alone” and “Let the sky connect you and me. I miss you” sang their heartfelt voice. There are many other comments like this sharing the migrant workers’ stories. The song’s ethnographic nature provided an opportunity for migrant workers with similar experiences to recount their vulnerability. By speaking out the pressure and empathizing with others’ stories, the migrant workers gathered by Guangdong ten-year love story could relieve their pain brought by the difficulties in life. Further, the Cantonese Mandarin accent conveys the singer’s affability to the migrant workers, making them feel that the singer is one of their group. Hence, whenever the migrant workers hear the singer’s lyric that “Even if losing everything, there’s no fear or regret”, the singer can inspire them as if he is their workmate, encouraging them to face the difficulties and pursue happiness. So, we can see the ethnographic nature of Guangdong ten-year love story has successfully roused the compassion of the migrant workers and motivated them.

The song itself and its comments also created a social impact on urban populations, reducing the prejudice of urban populations against migrant workers. In China, the urban population can see the low education level of migrant workers and the manual work they engage in. Hence, the first impression of urban residents on migrant workers is that they had the poor manner and poor sanitation. However, because of the huge poverty gap and status difference between migrant workers and urban populations, it’s difficult for the urban population to reach migrant workers in real life. Hence, the urban populations could only judge the migrant workers according to their first impression, and become hostile to the migrant workers. Guangdong ten-year love story, representing the voice of the migrant workers, sings out the migrant workers’ toughness facing the living pressure and their pursuit for happiness. And the stories shared under the comment of this song allowed the urban populations to learn the real condition of the migrant workers’ lives. Through this song, the urban population can see the shining virtue of the migrants and sympathize with their difficulties. With this knowledge in mind, their prejudice against migrant workers would reduce. So, this song promoted the change of the urban populations’ opinions towards migrant workers.

So, Guangdong ten-year love story is an ethnographic song singing in the voice of the migrant workers. It not only arouses the compassion of the migrant workers but also speaks to the urban populations, reducing their misunderstanding towards the former. This example shows that the function of music is far more than just pleasing. It has the potential to change our society.