Big trouble in little China

It’s time for a new installment in our recurring series on the seamy underside of the karaoke world. You know, karaoke is often thought of as an activity that brings families together. In that way, it’s a wholesome pursuit, not unlike fishing or visiting a national park. But in late August in the Chinese city of Xi’an, karaoke literally ripped a family asunder by subtracting two members from that family. I cannot possibly improve on the introductory sentence from this article that ran in Thursday’s edition of the British newspaper, The Independent: “A Chinese toddler’s refusal to give up the microphone during a family karaoke evening started a quarrel that left two men hacked to death with a meat cleaver.”

Friends, this story is a cautionary tale of why it’s so important to restrict entry in karaoke joints to folks who are of drinking age. Had a toddler (who, according to the article, was all of four years old) not been crooning his heart out in a Xi’anese karaoke bar, his two relatives who were hacked to death with a meat cleaver would still be alive today!

But let’s take a step back and figure out exactly what happened here. The Independent informs us that the carnage went down on Qixi, a holiday that we’re told is the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day (which would make last month’s events China’s answer to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre). The Independent does seem to have oversimplified in its description of Qixi. Translated as “Night of the Sevens,” Qixi is also sometimes known as the “Magpie Festival”; on the other hand, the sobriquet of the “Chinese Valentine’s Day” reflects an inaccurate understanding of the festival’s folktale origins. So apparently, Qixi is more about Heckle and Jeckle than heart-shaped candies. πŸ™‚

To celebrate this year’s festival, a noodle shop owner, Mr. Yun, invited some kinfolk to a night at a karaoke parlour. According to The Independent, Yun’s four-year-old son began hogging the microphone. Now I have to admit, this part of the story is somewhat confusing to me. What songs does a four-year-old even know? The theme song to Barney and Friends with Chinese lyrics, maybe? Nursery rhymes? When I was four years old, I sure as hell didn’t know any pop songs — let alone enough of them to hog a microphone in the event that karaoke bars had existed in the United States in 1974. (Of course, the first karaoke bar in the United States opened in Burbank, California in 1982, and the phenomenon did not reach most other parts of the U.S. until the 1990s. But I digress.).

Well, the kid was singing something up there, and his monopolisation of the mic did not sit well with two of his uncles. They began berating the tot’s parents (the noodle shop owner and his wife) for raising a spoiled progeny. Due to China’s famous one-child-per-couple policy, there are many “only children” in that country; and it’s common for such sibling-less spawn to be perceived as spoiled, and to be derided as “Little Emperors.” Although it’s unclear from the article in The Independent, the “Little Emperor” epithet may have been among the insults hurled during the uncles’ tirade.

These attacks on the honour of Mr. Yun, his wife, and their beloved albeit spoiled son were too much for Mr. Yun’s nephew, Mr. Hui. Conveniently enough, Mr. Hui worked at Mr. Yun’s noodle shop. So he hightailed it over to that eatery, grabbed a meat cleaver, and returned to the karaoke bar. Mr. Hui then used the meat cleaver to permanently silence the microphone-hogging toddler’s uncles. Naturally he’s been arrested by the authorities (I’ll be curious to see what kind of defense strategy he uses). Meanwhile, the four-year-old will go on being spoiled.

Xi’an has gained world renown for being the place where Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of a unified China, was buried with an army of thousands of life-sized terracotta warriors whose construction he had directed. Now Xi’an has attracted the world’s notice again, in a far more ignominious way, for two burials sans terracotta warriors.

The article in The Independent places this Xi’anese double-homicide in context with other high-profile episodes of karaoke-related violence. Undoubtedly the most celebrated examples have taken place in the Philippines; as The Independent puts it, “the Frank Sinatra song ‘My Way’ has had to be removed from many songbooks” in that country “after sub-standard renditions provoked a string of killings.” Not to be outdone, Thailand can boast of having been the country in which “a man shot eight of his neighbours, including his brother-in-law, after tiring of their tuneless reprisals of John Denver’s ‘Country Roads.'”

You might think that such atrocities would never happen in a place like the United States. You would be wrong. The article also brings to our attention a very disturbing incident in a suburb of Seattle, Washington in 2007: while a man was belting out Coldplay’s “Yellow” in a local karaoke establishment, a female audience member decided that she didn’t care for either his song selection or the quality of his performance. So she went into a frenzy, shoved him, and then started punching him. She was dragged outside and then started attacking other patrons of the bar.

I’m currently in Los Angeles, looking forward to getting in some karaoke here tonight and tomorrow night. Hopefully no one will get killed (or even punched). In the meantime, I haven’t lost my faith in human nature. While I’m here in the City of Angels, I’m going to fill my days with life-affirming adventures! Right now I’m about to head out to the Museum of Death in Hollywood. πŸ™‚

Happy singing,

A terracotta warrior and horse from the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang (259 BC – 210 BC), in Xi’an, China. Seen in July 2012 at the exhibit “Terracotta Warriors: Defenders of China’s First Emperor,” at the Times Square Discovery Center in New York City.

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