Do you know the song “Three Chinese with Double Bass”? The text can be changed so that the Chinese three double bass becomes “Dra Chanasan” or “Dre Chinesin”. But what can be sung in a seemingly harmless and amusing way is, upon listening closely, a distortion in the sounds of the Chinese language, which is unusual for German ears. The song also talks about three foreigners questioning the police and talking. He says it was first sung in the colonial era Nepomuk Riva, Music ethnologist at Hannover Music University.
Famous Children’s Song: From “The Three Japanese” to “The Three Chinese”
“The song was written in Berlin around 1900 – during the period of the colonial fairs,” says Riva. “It was the first time Asians came to Germany, and many of them stayed illegal after that.” First, the song was all about “Japanese”. After the German Reich’s alliance with Japan during World War II, the “Three Japanese” became the “Three Chinese”. Riva: “In different editions of the song, racist discourses either fed it or not.”
The world of ethnomusicology also considers the lyrics to children’s songs such as “Caffee (don’t drink too much coffee)” or “A man who called himself Columbus” a problem. In one case, the song is sung in front of a Turk and his indigestible drink, and in the other is about a man greeted by so-called “savages” after he apparently conquered the American continent with ease.
“Three Chinese with the Double Bus” and their associates: aren’t the texts that important?
“What was surprising during my research was that all of these songs had an educational pretense,” says the ethnomusicologist. “With the lower ten N. the counting is done backwards. In ‘Three Chinese with double bass’, the vowel is changed. In ‘The Man Calling Himself Columbus’ the historical narrative must be conveyed. So these are all pedagogical claims, where then from It’s easy to say: Yes, but the songs have a pedagogical claim and the lyrics are not that important. And I want to raise awareness and say: No, it is important that we deal with these words.”
Rewriting the lyrics of racist nursery rhymes?
The alternative would be to rewrite the scripts. The Nepomuk Riva recently received a proposed script for the tune “Three Chinese with Double Bass”, along with a political education claim:
Three students with a cargo bike
Driving on the road with a sign
Then the police came “Stop, this is the state.”
Three students with a cargo bike
Suggested text for the tune “Three Chinese with Double Bass”
Other songs, such as the canonical “CAFFEE”, are not difficult to rewrite. The phrase “Don’t be a Muselman you can’t do without” can easily be converted into “Don’t be a stupid man you can’t do without.” This way you can remove the negative connection with the stranger from the song.
Dr. Nepomuk Reva: No need for further narration
For Riva, songs with lyrics such as “Three Chinese with Double Bass” have survived. “There are enough new songs to be sung now that aim for friendship, international exchange and integration,” he says. “And there are enough German singers and songwriters who are making an effort in this field. In my opinion, there is simply no need to pass on these songs.”
On Thursday, September 16, Dr. Nepomuk Riva Lecture “Three Chinese with Double Bass – Ethnic Profiling in Children’s Songs?” From 8:30 pm at the Xplanatorium Schloss Herrenhausen in Hannover. The lecture is part of the “Herrenhausen Late” series of events. On Volkswagen’s website You’ll find a live stream and there are still tickets left until the event.