Golden Doll



















I have a golden doll

Gold body, gold clothes, gold hair

On the first day, I went to the river to draw water and I lost my gold doll

I cry, I cry, I cry very strongly

On the second day, I went to the river to wash clothes and I found my gold doll

I laugh, I laugh, I laugh very strongly

On the third day, the Jap-ghosts came to my house,

Stole my chicken, stole my duck, then assaulted me. 

On the fourth day, a Red Army uncle came to my house,

Gave back my chicken, gave back my duck, then gave me a big red flower

I wore the red flower to school

My teacher told me to clean the whiteboard

But I glared at her, so

Teacher called my grandfather,

Teacher called my grandmother,

[repeats until all family members are listed].


This is a nursery rhyme that I played pattycake to whilst attending elementary school in Northeastern China, circa ~2007. There are also some additional hand motions at various points (e.g. reaching out to slap the face of my pattycake partner during “[he] assaulted me”, and mimicking crying and laughing during the appropriate times). I learned this nursery rhyme on the playground of my preschool from the older students, who likely learned it from the even older students, and so forth. There are some variations: for example, instead of ‘chicken’ and ‘duck’, the items are now listed as ‘mobile phone’ and ‘SIM card’, clearly demonstrating the shift from widespread agriculture to an increasingly capitalist society. The term “Jap-ghost”, of which there is no English translation, is a slur for Japanese soldiers–– the atrocities at Nanking are permanently etched into collective memory. The term ‘ghost’ has two dimensions, both as the spirits of slain Chinese civilians as well as the malevolent spirit-like nature of the Japanese army. The red flower is a symbol of recognition and honor bestowed on individuals who demonstrate bravery and perseverance, and was granted to many of the survivors that lived through the commission of war crimes. The disrespect shown to the teacher is obviously prohibited, and the endless listing of relative titles signals the importance and strong ties between family members, all of whom would be involved in a young relative’s misdeed. For more information, see 张永泰’s article 台湾民间团体发起保钓游行 published by VOA Chinese, in which the author describes this phenomenon being so prevalent that some variation of it is prevalent in a significant number of proverbs.  

My source/interviewee for this entry is my friend K, who also grew up in China and is my age. This rhyme is so transparent in its propaganda that I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just something I made up, or that was told to me by some ‘tankie’. K confirmed to me that she had also heard of a similar rhyme at her elementary school in Shanghai, and we reminisced a bit on how crazy it was. She mentioned that Americans are shocked that in Chinese schools, we have a flag/national anthem ceremony every Monday morning, yet the Americans say the pledge and have a moment of silence every morning! That part was strange to me too, and while I stood up with my classmates during the pledge, I never said the words. We were in a Starbucks at the Village when we were talking about this, and I was worried someone would overhear it… I didn’t know which would be worse, a Chinese international student taking offense, or an American student taking offense. After my conversation with K, I asked my dad if he had heard of this, and he was surprised and asked me if I were joking. My father, who grew up in China during the seventies and eighties, is unfamiliar with this rhyme: he did not attend preschool nor elementary school due to the Cultural Revolution, during which normal school operations were ceased in order for students to train and serve in a military capacity. As such, those in his generation did not organically learn the nursery rhymes of their parents. With regards to my generation, I later learned that there was a list of state-approved children’s poems that was to be promoted in elementary schools– which is how I came to know of this particular rhyme. I believe that my father’s generation was purposefully cut off from the traditional nursery rhymes of decades past, in order to more completely institute another set of poems glorifying the new China. As I became older and immigrated to various countries in the Western world, I was shocked at the staunch propaganda implicit in the poem. As I was in a phase of desperating Americanizing myself, I denounced how evil and cunning it was to insert such explicit conditioning in a children’s song– and was disappointed in myself for not recognizing it as such. My mother, who is not Chinese, dismissed it as “typical Chinese indoctrination”, but I was very upset at how I had been conned into repeating such derogatory terms about Japanese people and praising the Red Army without knowing the context. I am now much more forgiving of myself; I was only six years old and had largely grown up in China–– I lacked critical thinking skills for two reasons: the ignorance of childhood, and the lack of outside knowledge with which to compare my reality.

Source: 张永泰. “台湾民间团体发起保钓游行.” VOA Chinese, 2012,