Chinese Word for Freedom

Freedom Stamp

At the end of a muggy day, we are finally rewarded with a few cool breezes, followed by a welcome offer for refreshment.

Nǐ yào chī xīguā háishì tiánguā?
Would you like to eat watermelon or muskmelon?

Both sound good to me, and the choice is mine to make. 自由 (zìyóu) means freedom, liberty, unrestrained, or freely.

Wǒ yǒu zìyóu xuǎnzé de quánlì.
I have the right to free choice.

I think of those people who are not so fortunate. Through various characters in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin“, the author Harriet Beecher Stowe tried to help us see the importance of a man’s basic right to freedom. It’s true that many of the colored slaves were treated almost like family, but still, their activities and fates were totally controlled by their masters. Generally the wellbeing or misery of the slaves depended entirely on the kindness or cruelty of their owners. They saw no hope for freedom or autonomy in this world. They could only long for a “better land” that Stephen Collins Foster referred to in his “Old Black Joe”. I’ll share with you the version of this song my father taught me when I was about six years old. I think he did this Chinese translation himself. The lines are different from what you will find when you search the Internet for 老黑奴 (Lǎo Hēi Nú), 老黑乔 (Lǎo Hēi Qiáo) or 老黑爵 (Lǎo Hēi Jué).

Suìyuè bù liú.
Years go by;

nándé qīngnián xīn shuǎngkuai.
The joy of youthful heart won’t stay.

Xǔduō péngyǒu
Many of my friends,

líbié hòu rújīn hézài?
after parting, where are they nowadays?

Chāotuō chénshì,
Risen above this mortal life,

qù dào tiāntáng de lètǔ.
they’ve gone to heaven’s happy place
(i.e. paradise).

Wǒ tīngwén tāmen róu shēng hūhuàn:
I hear them gently calling:

Lǎo hēi nú.
“Old black slave.”

Wǒ lái liǎo,
I’m coming,

Wǒ lái liǎo,
I’m coming.

Zǒu jìn shì jiàn qíqū lù.
I’ve plodded life’s rugged ways.

Wǒ tīngwén tāmen róu shēng hūhuàn:
I hear them gently calling:

Lǎo Hēi Nú.
“Old black slave.”

难得 (nándé) means hard to come by, or “It’s a rare occasion that . . .”.

Nándé nǐ lái kàn wǒ.
What a rare occasion that you have come to visit me!
(This could be uttered either with grateful joy or with sarcasm.)

Back to the present day, I’m finishing up on reading “The Good Food Revolution“, a book co-authored by Will Allen and Charles Wilson. I’m sure Mrs. Stowe would be very pleased to see that the oppressed people she wrote about are enjoying not only liberty but also the awareness that they, like everybody else, are entitled to the freedom of choice on growing and eating wholesome foods.

Měiguó guóqìng rì kuàilè!
Have a Happy July 4th!

Měiguó dúlì jìniànrì kuàilè!
Happy Independence Day!

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. frenchgrove
    Jul 03, 2013 @ 05:57:18

    Really liked reading the translation you shared with us. So the best way to say have a happy July 4th is to use the words 国庆日?


    • likeabridge
      Jul 03, 2013 @ 11:09:15

      Pleased to know that you liked the translation.

      You could say 美国独立日快乐 (Happy Independence Day).

      You could also say 七月四日快乐 to people who are familiar with July 4th being the national holiday of the USA.
      Generally, calendar dates are not used in holiday greetings. For example, you wouldn’t say “Merry December 25th” for Christmas. In 元旦快乐 (Yuándàn kuàilè), 元旦 does refer to the first day of the year, but the calendar date is not spelled out. Similarly, in 中秋节快乐 (Zhōngqiūjié kuàilè), 中秋 (zhōngqiū) refers to mid-autumn, and people talk about 八月十五中秋节, but they usually don’t say 八月十五快乐.


  2. Anthony Bogadek
    Jul 04, 2013 @ 04:36:09

    Hi dear Miss Lin,
    This was a really tough lesson. It took me ages to work through it as the English version was a rather free rendering of the Chinese text.
    I picked up a few minor points for you to look at again.
    1. Re. xīgua: the dictionary uses two successive first tones: xi1-gua1
    2. I’ll share with you the verson of ….; it’s version, I guess.

    Kind regards and Happy Independence Day.
    A bee


    • likeabridge
      Jul 04, 2013 @ 17:40:48

      Hi Anthony,

      1. Yes, the official pinyin for 西瓜 is xīguā, but colloquially, when two first tones come in succession, the second one is often pronounced in the 5th (silent) tone.

      2. Thanks for pointing out the missing letter. It’s been corrected.

      3. The new words and expressions will make a deeper impression on you when you have to make some effort to get them rather than having them presented to you on a silver platter. 🙂

      Best regards.


  3. Christoper Owen
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 22:33:25

    This is a common word to express the idea of freedom in both Chinese and Japanese.This word is the essence of “being free” but also acts as the suffix to create words like freestyle swimming, free trade, civil liberties, free will, freedom fighter, religious freedom, and liberal.


  4. keithy
    Aug 07, 2013 @ 09:46:50

    I saw this interesting word in a business newspaper 自由職業工作者 / self-employed or freelance worker. From my Western point of view, it is amusing to see 自由 used in this context.


    • likeabridge
      Aug 07, 2013 @ 12:13:03

      Yes, anyone who works for himself and does not work for an organization can be called a 自由職業工作者.
      You might also be interested to know that 自由活动 (zìyóu huódòng) refers to the free time given to participants of a group activity. Say you are touring Europe with a group and must follow the same schedule for sightseeing outings and meals. Often there are slots of time allowed for independent individual activities, or 自由活动 (zìyóu huódòng).


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