What Are They Chanting In Turning Red? Chinese Ritual Translation & Meaning

In the climactic ritual scene of Turning Red, the family is heard chanting in Cantonese together and the translation of this chant gives a deeper meaning to what is happening on the screen. Praised for its cultural sensitivity and attention to detail, the movie has resonated with audiences on a global scale. Whether it’s the fact that Turning Red is set in 2002 or that it takes place in Toronto, Domee Shi and her team have made many creative decisions for very specific reasons to help the viewer immerse themselves in Mei Lee’s (Rosalie Chiang) world. The ritual scene toward the end of the movie is where many of these creative decisions all come together in an eye-opening finale with an interesting twist.

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Prior to the ritual scene, Mei has been waiting in anticipation of the ceremony that her relatives will perform in order to rid herself of the red panda form. Although by the end of Turning Red, Mei keeps the red panda, her relatives still begin the ritual to cut her off from it. The ceremony involves a chant spoken in Cantonese and although a translation isn’t given in the movie, several people on the internet have worked together to try and share what the words mean at the end of Turning Red. The text used was sourced by Herman Wong, the Asian-Pacific operations director for Disney Character Voices International.

Related: Turning Red: Why Grandmother Wu Thinks The Number 4 Is Unlucky

In a group effort among Turning Red fans, Reddit user skinst0rmed was able to give what they called a “rough translation” of the chant, saying that they speak both Cantonese and English. The translation they gave is as follows: “Cleanse your heart and body / Hold on to your heart / (Let your) spirit return / Swiftly to where it belongs.” (via Reddit) Based on what was heard spoken in the ritual scene featuring Turning Red’s Lee family temple, Reddit user jponghere wrote the chant out in traditional Chinese (via Reddit). When this was run through an online Cantonese to English translator, the following was given: “Purify the mind and body, shake hands, return to the position of the soul and return to the body.” (via Bing) Shi describes the words used as being a “protection chant” in the ritual scene at the Lee family temple and the lyrics are “about watching over this girl, guiding her through her journey.” (via Polygon).

What Turning Red’s Chant Translates To In English

Turning Red Ritual

While Cantonese uses tones, where the speaker has to change the pitch of their voice to distinguish between different words, the chant in Turning Red’s panda ceremony is hard to make out because the tones aren’t always clearly defined. Several native Cantonese speakers noted this on Reddit, but not using tones is typical in chant. It’s important to remember that when translating from one language to another, precise meanings are often lost in the process. The above translation by Reddit user skinst0rmed seems to best capture the essence of what Shi was going for in this scene: “Cleanse your heart and body / Hold on to your heart / (Let your) spirit return / Swiftly to where it belongs.”

What Turning Red’s Chant Really Means

Mr Gao in Turning Red

While Shi calls this piece they’ve included a “protection chant,” or as Turning Red’s soundtrack calls it, “Red Moon Ritual,” there’s more to it than that. When Mei asks what her relatives are chanting, Mr. Gao (James Hong) says, “It doesn’t matter,” but what does matter is that they sing from the heart. Ludwig Göransson, who composed the original score for the movie, cleverly found a way to sync up the chant with the 4*Town song that follows after it, bringing together Mei’s identity as a Chinese-Canadian and an adolescent living in 2002 Toronto.

While Mr. Gao says the words don’t really matter, that’s not entirely true. Shi and her team made an effort to create a uniquely authentic chant for the movie, and it has clearly created a buzz on the internet. Used as a way to bridge the things that matter most to Mei Lee in Turning Red, the chant simmers gently in the background of the scene, but it also pulls everything together.

Related: Everything We Know About Turning Red 2

How Accurate Was Turning Red's Portrayal of Chinese-Canadian Culture?

turning red review

Turning Red has a responsibility to be as accurate to Chinese-Canadian culture as possible — so how does the Pixar movie measure up? In terms of puberty, Turning Red does a great job of showcasing how teens navigate such a difficult time. The animated romp covers everything from conflicting emotions to changing bodies to the development of new and old relationships with serious precision. Turning Red also deals with themes of identity, which shift and change as one grows. As for Chinese culture, however, the answer is a little trickier. Many Chinese people from China felt that the movie's portrayal of their culture was over-the-top and rather stereotyped and therefore inaccurate in depicting modern Chinese culture.

On the other hand, Canadians with Chinese heritage felt that Turning Red did well in portraying their culture. Many teens felt incredibly seen by the movie, as it chronicled several experiences that Chinese-Canadian teens had in real life and the struggle on balancing different elements of their identity as they approach their teen years – the chant's meshing with 4*Town beautifully exemplified this. It's an important distinction to note that Mei is considered Chinese-Canadian rather than Chinese from China, and it created a different kind of story. Between the chaos of puberty and Mei's relationship with her parents, it seems like Turning Red did great work in navigating the complicated nature of puberty, culture, and relationships.

2022-09-30T19:10:39.000Z

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