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Chemistry song has winning formula, despite lyrics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am


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A song about chemistry, with lyrics by the president of Peking University, became one of the most downloaded tunes on the mainland this week - a first for a song about science.

Entitled Chemistry Is You, Chemistry Is Me, the three-minute song by Professor Zhou Qifeng went to No 2 yesterday in the chart at, the mainland's biggest search engine, topping Jay Chou's hit Battle Between Heaven And Earth.

But most people listened to the song and passed it on to their friends because they could not believe their ears. While some scientists pointed out a few technical flaws in the lyrics, most critics aimed their fire at the song's linguistic ineptitude. Zhou might have mastered chemical reactions, one critic said, but he had no command of the Chinese language.

Performed by a chorus of Peking University students at the National Grand Theatre in May to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry, the song, set to a classical score, tries to glorify the role of chemistry in almost every aspect of life.

'Parents deliver us ... as a chemical process,' the lyrics say. 'Memory and thinking need to be described as a chemical process. Oh, chemistry, no wonder you are so hot.'

Professor Li Lei , a researcher at the State Key Laboratory of Reproductive Biology, said in Beijing yesterday that while he appreciated Zhou's attempt to publicise the importance of chemistry, as a biologist he worried that the song would mislead the public with an over-simplified explanation of sex.

Life, however simple and primitive, called on many forces to reproduce itself, he said. If we were solely a result of chemical reactions, we should have been able to create life in test tubes long ago. 'To say the least, reproduction involves lots of physical actions,' Li said.

Mainland internet users focused more on the song's language than any scientific meanings. The Beijing Youth Daily quoted one internet commentator on as saying that the lyrics were as inspiring as, 'I get up in the morning, have breakfast and then go to toilet - boring and shallow'.

The Southern Metropolis News said Zhou's command of the Chinese language 'falls behind that of a middle school student' and had embarrassed Peking University, which had a proud literary tradition.

Dr Fang Shimin , a freelance science critic based in Beijing, said that Zhou's lyrics sounded like propaganda, and his incompetence in his native language revealed a fatal weakness in the mainland's education system.

Students who chose to pursue science or engineering received little exposure to the arts and literature, Fang said.

'So many scientists cannot communicate their research to the public through competent and engaging language,' he said.

'Their verbal incompetence has contributed to the general ignorance of science on the mainland.'