The Brigands' Song: Serving in the Army of A Native Chieftain

A Traditional Song Text from Guangxi in Southern China


Editors / Translators: and
This is an annotated edition of a traditional song text, written in the Zhuang character script. The Brigands’ Song is part of a living tradition, sung antiphonally by two male and two female singers. The song is probably unique in presenting the experiences of ordinary men and women during wartime in pre-modern China. The narrative relates how the men are sent off to war, fighting as native troops on behalf of the Chinese imperial armies. The song dates from the Ming dynasty and touches on many topics of historical significance, such as the use of firearms and other operational details.

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David Holm, D.Phil. (1980) in Chinese, University of Oxford, is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Ethnology at National Chengchi University. He has published extensively on the traditional language and culture of the Zhuang, a Tai-speaking people indigenous to Southern China.
Meng Yuanyao, Ph.D (2002), University of Melbourne, is Professor in the Department of Minority Languages in the Guangxi University for Nationalities. He has published The Names and Classification of Common Plants in Zhuang (in English, 2006), and numerous books on Zhuang song texts, ethnobotany, and other aspects of traditional culture. Most recently he has served as chief editor of a new edition of the Zhuang-Chinese Glossary (in Chinese, 2018).
"In this volume, David Holm and Meng Yuanyao present photos of the full text, two transcriptions, an English translation, extensive annotations on linguistic and historical matters, a musical score for the recitation, glossary, concordance, several indices, a long introduction on the background and significance of the text, and a bibliography with 250 entries. This extraordinarily thorough 850-page study is a major contribution to the historical linguistics of the Tai family of languages and an unique window onto the feudal system of Tai communities in southwestern China in the Ming era (...) This magnificent book is principally a contribution to the study of Tai linguistics and especially to the understanding of the Zhuang language. But the song itself is a beautiful and very affecting piece of work, wonderfully captured in the seemingly artless translation."
Chris Baker, Journal of the Siam Society, 110/2 (2022).
List of Illustrations


English Translation

Interlinear Transcription

Textual and Ethnographic Notes

Appendix: Song Markets in Pingguo
Plates: Photo-Reproduction of Manuscript Pages
Glossary and Concordance
Chinese Character Index
Index of Vernacular Characters and Allographs
Index of Zhuang Characters and Other Symbols
English-Zhuang Index
Index of Scientific Names of Plants and Animals
Subject Index
Scholars and students in the fields of Chinese Studies, Comparative Tai Studies, Southeast Asian Studies, Comparative Literature, Performing Arts, Gender Studies, Anthropology, Linguistics, Ethnomusicology, Ethnobiology (Ethnobotany and Ethnozoology), Strategic Studies, History of Science and Technology.
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