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Diplomat Su Wu, Lonely Shepherd of the North

Apr 14, 2010

Ancient Melody or Not?

Honestly, I learned this beautiful song/music in primary school and have believed since then this is an ancient song written 2000 years ago in Han Dynasty. I did not realize it is actually not that ancient until I planned this post and searched information online.

At the time of Xinhai Revolution, around 1911, a number of insightful people among Chinese intellectuals noticed the expanding of imperialist powers in China. In order to arouse the masses, and to jointly fight against foreign invasion, Chinese musician wrote lots of famous songs. “Su Wu Mu Yang” (Su Wu the Shepherd) is one of those songs. However, it is often referred to in a number of publications and textbooks as an “Ancient Melody”.

It is a widespread famous school song with distinctive ethnic features. It is produced in the early years of Republic of China (1912), became popular in the 20s and 30s of 20th century. There are many different opinions about its composer and lyrics writer.

The Story: Diplomat Su Wu, Lonely Shepherd of the North

Vocal version of the Song.

Why this song is so popular? Not only because of the beautiful melody and ethnic feature, but also because of the touching story it tells.


This song tells the story of Diplomat Su Wu of the Han Dynasty. On his mission to the Huns as Imperial Envoy, he was imprisoned for 19 years and he refused to surrender. This song is to praise his noble integrity.

In Han Dynasty, Su Wu was appointed as the imperial envoy on a mission to the Huns. But the Huns detained Su Wu and tried all sorts of tortures and inducements to persuade him to surrender.

Su Wu rather die than surrender. Unable to force Su to surrender, the Huns then exiled him to North Sea (Lake Baikal) and ordered him to tend a flock of rams—telling him that he would be allowed to go home when the rams would produce lambs.

During exile, Su often lacked food, as the food supplies coming from the Xiongnu headquarters were not arriving steadily. He often had to resort to eating grass roots and wild rodents. Regardless of the difficulties, however, Su always held onto the imperial staff given to all imperial envoys, and he used it as the shepherd’s rod—that the decorative hairs on the staff eventually all fell off.

He spent 19 years herding sheep at the North Sea until the Hun and Han Dynasty became peace again and was released to come back to the Han Dynasty. When he returned back to the Capital Chang’An, all of people in the city came out to meet him. When they saw his white beard and hair as well as bare rod of his imperial staff, everyone was moved to tears.

To know more details about Su Wu’s story, you can read the wiki article here. Su Wu.

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