The following line comes from the song 归去来兮 by 花粥:

此去必经年 荒野寒暑换红颜

此去必经年: This time I will be gone for several years.

荒野 is clearly wilderness.

寒暑 is hot and cold, and by synecdoche summer and winter, a year.

红颜 means rosy cheeks, and is alluding to a beautiful woman.

换 generally means to exchange (交换) or change (改变), but I'm having trouble understanding the message here. Can 换 also mean to become (成为)?

Is she saying that during the years, she will transform into a beautiful woman?

4 Answers 4


I feel that the rest of the song lyrics provide the required context to interpret the line in question. I don't claim any singularly "correct" interpretation of course, just my personal take.

I've chosen a few opening lines, (which usually set the general tone / direction for the rest), as a kind of "explanatory preamble" to the line in question. They are:-




我辭三界 別五行自顧去逍遙

此去必經年, 荒野寒暑換紅顏

往事散雲煙 十寸光陰換一錢

Here goes:-

(please note that I am paraphrasing as a direct translation often makes no sense in English)

The first 2 lines depict the author's disappointment / unhappiness / dissatisfaction with "Life", "the Human Condition", "this cynical Mundane world which showcases the worst of human nature and motives", as she sees it.

And in leaving all these "Worldly Injustices" behind, seek out her own lonely path to personal fulfillment and inner happiness -- 紛紛擾擾這人間缺個公道 ...我辭三界 別五行自顧去逍遙.

But, there is a price to be paid for her "conscientious endeavors", and the "price" is:-

此去必經年, 荒野寒暑換紅顏, (Note:- And here is where the Commentators diverge in their interpretations)

There appear to be 2 interpretations, (as I see it):-

  1. Willingly change her "紅顏", (youthful good looks), to resemble / be similar or bear a likeness to the 荒野寒暑, (not necessarily to be "ugly", but take on the "toughness", "resilience", "survivability" to be in natural conformity with the wild environment, a "Me Tarzan, you Jane" situation)

  2. Give up, discard, "sacrifice" her "紅顏", (over the years, 此去必經年), "in exchange" for the "opportunity" to live in a 荒野寒暑 environment which do not have the 而置身事外的君子在一旁冷笑, 紛紛擾擾這人間缺個公道 which she despised, and 十寸光陰換一錢 is a worthwhile exchange.

Which would I chose?

#2, I suppose.

  • Interesting. The title, 归去来兮, is a reference to a famous ancient poem 归去来兮辞, which advocates a secluded hermit life (as opposed to meddling in worldly affairs). As such, I don't think 置身事外的君子 is a negative figure.
    – EEQ
    Aug 8, 2022 at 4:19
  • And considering the line 举头问苍天 何时得以赴黄泉 is basically asking "When will I get to die", I don't get the impression that she would be asking for more time.
    – EEQ
    Aug 8, 2022 at 4:23
  • Yes, that's the reason for the lively discussions going on, which is all for the better appreciation of the language, (both Chinese and English, I might add) Though the ideas expressed in the song are not groundbreaking, (something which 老子, the putative author of 道德經, might have a lot to say if he were a Contributor here) As the saying goes, "The Truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the Truth" Aug 8, 2022 at 7:14
  • You are right that more context is always needed which is why I always try to leave information about what song the line comes from. Perhaps I should, in the future, always provide a link as well. @WayneCheah Your explanations make sense to me and I will mark your answer as the best one. I have never encountered 換 to go in that direction, and I notice there is an ongoing discussion further down on that same topic.
    – timseb
    Aug 8, 2022 at 10:44
  • @WayneCheah Sorry, would you mind elaborating on why you think 老子 is relevant here?
    – EEQ
    Aug 8, 2022 at 23:43

此去必经年 荒野寒暑换红颜 - This trip will take years, and the weather(寒暑) in the wilderness will change(换/改變) my facial feature (skin becomes rougher and face looks older).

  • 寒暑, here means everything anticipated in rough weather of the wildness - 冷热加上風吹雨打和日曬, all would contribute to the change of/affecting a female facial feature, especially exposed to such weather in a long period of time (经年 - year-long or several years).

  • 红颜, female(女子), also mean "female's (young/pretty) face - 女子在年輕時皎好的容貌". Here, the author was talking about her facial feature that was about to suffer the attack of the severe weather on the year-long trip in the wilderness.


I think, on a surface level, 红颜 is just a way to say appearance. So 荒野寒暑换红颜 simply means the wilderness changes appearance over years. It's the same thing as 沧海桑田,conveying that a long time would have passed and things have changed.

But 红颜 may indeed serve as a double entendre, alluding to change of her own appearance. Not necessarily that she will become beautiful - probably quite the opposite, that she will lose her youthful beauty. Note that 红颜 can also refer to any youthful face, it's not strictly limited to beautiful women.

Side note, I would suggest you to take caution with this kind of lyrics. Sometimes they use flowery, ornate words even when not entirely appropriate. It's all in good fun, but they are not representations of fine literary craft, and might be misleading to language learners (or even native speakers for that matter).

Edit: @r13's answer is also a plausible interpretation. However, I find neither of our interpretations fit the overall context of the song very well.

  • I know lyrics are very flowery, but just as English lyrics can be flowery, in nearly all cases a native speaker won't misunderstand what the words in themselves mean and what parts of speech they represent. I already understand this in novels, so song lyrics is my next field of training. Less context means more figuring out. It is also good for repetitive listening.
    – timseb
    Aug 7, 2022 at 19:48
  • 1
    @timseb To clarify, the problem is not flowery lyrics per se, but rather that some lyrics would abuse the language with no justifiable reason. Native speakers don't have problem figuring out the intended meaning, but they can still be misled into thinking it's a good command of the language. I agree that learning song lyrics is good for improving cultural understanding, just keep in mind that some of them might need serious mental gymnastics to make sense of, or are outright ungrammatical. Sorry for being a bit preachy.
    – EEQ
    Aug 7, 2022 at 20:32
  • This, for example, follows the grammar of this line, 嗰間餐館係要逼佢賣憤恨 (那間餐館一定要逼他賣憤恨) gets you nowhere, because it omitted too much. It certainly didn't mean 'that restaurant forces him to sell anger'
    – Tang Ho
    Aug 7, 2022 at 21:29
  • (他親戚的)那間餐館, (黑手黨人)一定要逼他(親戚)賣(給他們), (這使他十分)憤恨
    – Tang Ho
    Aug 7, 2022 at 21:32

Another interpretation

The entire song strongly hinting escapism

此去必经年 荒野寒暑换红颜

往事散云烟 十寸光阴换一钱

[寒暑 - time] 换红颜 [in exchange with youth]

[光阴 - time] 换一钱 [in exchange with wealth]

willing to exchange my youth and wealth for time to get away from it all.

此去必经年 - He wants to get away for years

荒野寒暑换红颜 - He wants 荒野(wildness) 寒暑(days) = days in the wildness (time to get away from it all) for the price of 红颜 (youthful face = youth)

  • Do you have any other example where A换B means giving up B to get A? In my experience it's always the opposite.
    – EEQ
    Aug 8, 2022 at 1:25
  • @EEQ 换 can be 换來 or 换走. e.g. (給我)寒暑换(走)(我的)红颜; (給我)光阴换走(我的)(每)一(分)钱.
    – Tang Ho
    Aug 8, 2022 at 1:47
  • I think that's stretching it. Without specification, A换B always means 以A换B. I would consider 十寸光阴换一钱 a direct subversion of 一寸光阴一寸金, thus conveying that time isn't worth much money.
    – EEQ
    Aug 8, 2022 at 1:53
  • A换B can be an equal exchange, e.g. 一命换一命; 實利换虛名 (我給你虛名, 換來實利/ 我給你實利, 換來虛名) the main point is 换 can be 换來 or 换走
    – Tang Ho
    Aug 8, 2022 at 1:55
  • Do you have any source for this? If I managed to kill three people before I die myself, I'd alway say 一换三,never 三换一.
    – EEQ
    Aug 8, 2022 at 1:57

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