Chinese Breakdown reel

Also known as Chinese Rag.

There is 1 recording of this tune.

Chinese Breakdown has been added to 4 tune sets.

Chinese Breakdown has been added to 37 tunebooks.

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Two settings

X: 1
T: Chinese Breakdown
R: reel
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
A2|d2 d2 B2 A2|F2 F4 A2|d2 d2 B2 A2|E6 A2|
c2 c2 B2 A2|c2 c4 B2|A3A B2 A2|F6 A2|
d2 d2 B2 A2|F2 F4 E2|D2 D2 E2 F2|G6 d2|
e3f g2 e2|c2 c4 B2|A2 A2 B2 c2|d4 e4||
f2 af e2 d2|f2 f4 f2|f2 af e2 d2|c6 e2|
a2 a4 a2|g2 g4 e2|c3d c2 B2|A6 e2|
f2 af e2 d2|f2 f4 e2|d2 d2 c2 =c2|B6 d2|
e3f g2 e2|^c2 c4 B2|A2 A2 B2 c2|d6||
X: 2
T: Chinese Breakdown
R: reel
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
(3ABc|d2A2 BdBA|F2FE F2 (3ABc|d2A2BdBA|G2GF G2AB|
c2A2BcBA|c3c- c2AB|c2A2BcBA|F3F- F2(3ABc|
d2A2 BdBA|F2FE F2FE|D2D2 E2F2|G3G-G4|
ee2e- efed|cc2c- cdcB|A2AA B2c2|d3d- d4|
|:ddfd dfdd|ddfd dfdd|ddfd gdfd|B3B- B4|
[1 aa2a- abaf|gg2g- gagf|e2^d2 e2=f2|f3f- f4:|
[2 ABcd efga|bagf edcB|A2AA B2c2|dBAF D2||

Five comments

Chinese Breakdown

An American old-timey tune. I’m not sure how, where or when it “crossed the pond” to the UK, but to my certain knowledge it has been used by ceilidh bands in the South and South-West of England for at least thirty years. It even turns up at sessions occasionally. Somewhat daggy, maybe – but a “fun” tune nonetheless, and popular with the punters.

Here is a recent rendering of the tune by the Jig Mad Wolf Celidh Band:

(The second tune in the set is Silver and Gold, a version of which is already posted to

Lyrics (by Mix O’Lydian)

When I first heard this tune (and was told the title of it) I was reminded of a Chinese resturant that I once visited where the waiters only understood your order if you gave them the number of it as shown on the menu, rather than the name of the dish in English. That mental picture was my inspiration for these lyrics (although I don’t believe that anyone has ever sung them!).

When in a Chinese restaurant,
Dish numbers you must quote;
For waiters and the chefs there,
They learn them all by rote;
If you don’t give those numbers,
Your order they’ll get wrong;
You’ll cause a Chinese breakdown,
And the staff will sing this song:

For: Chop Su-ey say “16”,
Or you’ll be out of luck;
Please tell the waiter: “45”,
If you want Peking Duck;
For Lychees please say: “76”,
And you’ll get want you want;
All orders are by numbers,
In a Chinese restaurant!

Re: Chinese Breakdown

I can probably date its entry coming the UK and Ireland 1965 or possibly earlier when American squares and contras were becoming popular in folk dance circles, encouraged by trachers such as Ralph Page and Nibs Matthews. Be aware that Cecil Sharp and others had been researchnig dance music and other traditions in the Appalachian Mountains, US, I think in the 1930s.

Re: Chinese Breakdown

I think this was the tune to a Lonnie Donegan hit - ‘Putting on the style’ - which would have meant that it was around in the UK well before 1965.

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