Li Zhi's folk song Memory of Zhengzhou (关于郑州的记忆) contains this verse:


Most of this is straightforward to understand, but line 3 and 4 are a bit puzzling. I understand them to mean:

Mist drifts past her young neck
To now, it has never dissipated.

This seems odd, as the singer is talking about lover in the past tense, someone who liked sunshine in the wintertime and the smell of coal smoke in the alleys of Zhengzhou. All fairly normal human things. But lines 3 and 4 seem to change to something different. It's as if he's not talking about a human person anymore. Maybe Zhengzhou is misty sometimes and he's identifying his lover with the city?

Why would Li Zhi say that mist drifts (or drifted) past her neck and it hasn't dissipated?

  • 1
    The song is basically using a poetic device to invoke the role of nostalgia in sustaining meaning, identity, and social connectedness and an emphasis in literary forms on the role of nostalgia in resolving conflict and coping with change and loss. Commented Jan 26 at 9:59

4 Answers 4


This is poetry. In reading poems you cannot take the sense too literally. I.A. Richards once wrote a book Practical Criticism in which he observed the common ways of misreading poems. He classified "meaning" into four aspects: sense, feeling, tone, and intention. If the text focuses on feeling but you focus on its sense then you will find everything wrong.

Notice the title is "Memory about Zhengzhou," i.e. the poem is about memory. As such you can expect some confusion between past and present, as is the case here.


This is clearly about the past. The author is recollecting the scene where they were together, and the mist was drifting through her neck.


This shifts the perspective to present. The author sees the same kind of mist, perhaps at the same place as the past scene, but it is clear from context that the girl is not present.

雾气 suggests a blurry vision. If something is shrouded by mist then you cannot see it clearly. This is consistent with the idea of "memory", which is usually blurred. Similarly, "散去" on the next line is not merely referring to the dissipation of mist, but also suggests the dissipation of memory. Therefore, the two lines can be read to express "In the past when we were together, the mist drifted past her young neck. Today the same mist still lingers, so is my memory about her, (but she is not here)."

  • Thanks, I figured it had to be a poetic statement because the literal meaning seemed to not make sense :-) Commented Jan 26 at 3:19
  • Just as a "Batperson" is an outward poetic expression of an inner.........................? Commented Jan 26 at 9:51

她說她喜歡鄭州冬天的陽光 - She said she likes the sunshine in Zhengzhou's winter (the sunny days in winter are colder than cloudy days)

巷子裡飄滿煤爐的味道 - The alleys were filled with the smell of coal stoves (it was cold, and people had to burn coals to keep warm)

霧氣穿過她年輕的脖子 - Mist flew past her youthful neck (mist cannot go through a human's neck, but the chill it carries can)

直到今天都沒有散去 - It has not dissipated to this today (In the present, it is winter again and the mist is here as if it never dissipated)

The first three lines are the author's memory, and the last line is his feelings now (the girl is not with him at this time, making the chilling mist more unbearable)

  • Makes sense. It's clear there is some kind of time transition, because the first three lines were just ordinary statements about some that happened a long time ago and the last one is about the present. Commented Jan 26 at 3:16

I like the song!

As you know, in winter, when we breath out, you can see the water vapour in our breath as we exhale, forming mist in the cold air. I believe that is what the author is referring to.

She said she likes the winter sunshine in Zhengzhou,
The scent of coal fires drifts along the alleyways
Fog passes through her young neck
It still hangs in the air

Joan Baez, Diamonds and Rust

Our breath comes out white smoke
mingles and hangs in the air

As to the time: In English people will speak about the past in the present tense, which is no problem for Western Grammar: just call it the Historic Present! (Or our system of tenses will collapse!)

  • It's a fantastic song, very expressive and full of feeling. Commented Jan 26 at 8:18
  • From this and other answers I'm getting a sense that the author was with his lover, mist surrounded her, and now the mist is still there but she is gone. Clearly there is more than one way to understand it. Commented Jan 26 at 8:24
  • Maybe the 没有散去 represents things said, and unsaid, and regret. Do you know the song: Idiot Wind? "Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth"
    – Pedroski
    Commented Jan 26 at 10:00

OK, I will answer my question even though I have already accepted an answer and it was a good one with a fine analysis.

Here is my attempt to translate those 4 verses, trying to preserve some of the poetic sense. I'm thinking that it's a remembered scene with his lover (maybe the smell of coal smoke called it to mind?) But it fades to white in his mind. That's the mist.

I've been through this exercise several times, and each time I end up with something different. Anyway here goes.

She said she liked the winter sun in Zhengzhou
The scent of coal smoke filled the air.
The mist of Zhengzhou drifted past her young neck
And even now that mist remains.

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