March of the Volunteers
March of the Volunteers is the national anthem of the People's Republic of China (including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since 1 July 1997, and the Macau Special Administrative Region since 20 December 1999), written by the poet and playwright Tian Han with music composed by Nie Er. This composition is a musical march. The piece was first performed as part of a 1934 Shanghai play and its original lyrics are the official lyrics of the national anthem. In 2004, a provision that the March of the Volunteers be the national anthem was added to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China as Article 136.
Origins as national anthem
March of the Volunteers was composed by Nie Er to a text by Tian Han in 1934. As one of the songs promoted secretly among the Chinese as part of the anti-Japanese resistance.Chinese patriots then reportedly would rather choose a noble death than an ignoble breath, and the song exemplified their roars to fight for independence from the invaders. Due to the powerful and motivating words of its lyrics, the song swiftly and secretly swept over the Chinese people, galvanizing people’s heroic spirit and calling back precious national dignity as part of the anti-Japanese resistance effort.  Popular stories suggest, however, that Tian wrote it on a tobacco paper after being arrested in Shanghai and thrown into a Kuomintang (KMT) jail in 1935. The song was featured as the theme song of the 1935 patriotic film Sons and Daughters in a Time of Storm, also known as "Children of the Storm," a story about an intellectual who leaves to fight in the Second Sino-Japanese War. The song was later used in Frank Capra's propaganda film, The Battle of China. It was one of many songs that were promoted secretly among the population as part of the anti-Japanese resistance during the "left-wing cinema movement" (1931–37). The song was released as an album by the Pathé label of EMI in 1935.
It was used as the national anthem for the first time in an international conference in February 1949 held in Prague, Czechoslovakia. At the time Beijing had recently come under the control of the Chinese Communists in the Chinese Civil War. There was controversy over the line "The Chinese people faces their greatest peril". Historian Guo Moruo changed the line to "The Chinese people have come to their moment of emancipation" No official document explained why they chose “March of the Volunteers” as the national anthem. However, the news media provides a better source for understanding the choice. On November 15, 1949, People’s Daily explained in its influential column “Messages from New China (Xinhua)” the purposes for adopting “March of the Volunteers” as the national anthem:
“March of the Volunteers” is the best-received song among Chinese people of their revolutionary fights in the past decades, and carries a piece of significant history. We decide to take this song as the national anthem without changing its lyrics for these reasons: the original lyrics remind our people of the difficulties and dangers accompanying our building of a new nation; the original lyrics inspire our patriotic hearts to fight against imperialistic invasions; the original lyrics encourage our people to bring the revolution home. If we understand that Russian people took proud in using “the International” as their national anthem for a long time and that the French people still take pride in “La Marseillaise” as their national anthem even today; we will have no doubt at all in our decision. (中國民族到了大翻身的時候).
In June, a committee was set up by the Communist Party of China to decide on an official national anthem for the soon-to-be declared People's Republic of China. By the end of August, the committee had received 6,926 submissions. March of the Volunteers was suggested by painter Xu Beihong and almost unanimously supported by the members of the committee. There was contention, however, over the issue of the third line. On this Zhou Enlai made the conclusive judgment: "We still have imperialist enemies in front of us. The more we progress in development, the more the imperialists will hate us, seek to undermine us, attack us. Can you say that we won't be in peril?" His view was supported by Mao Zedong and on 27 September 1949, the song became the provisional national anthem, just days before the founding of the People's Republic of China.
“March of the Volunteers” was chosen not simply because it was a well-known battle song; it was chosen because the history vividly narrated in its lyrics excited people’s patriotism and nationalism, from the social elites to the grassroots. When a variety of interests and secondary goals existed in different sectors of the population, patriotism and national pride stirred by the song were crucial to define Chinese’s national identity in that particular historical period.
The restoration of the original lyrics of the national anthem in 1982 also demonstrates how social events and political arrangements may impact the choice of a national symbol.
Cultural Revolution and later history
During the Cultural Revolution, Tian Han was imprisoned, and the March of the Volunteers was therefore forbidden to be sung; as a result there was a period of time when "The East Is Red" was used as the unofficial national anthem. The anthem began to be played once again from the 20th PRC National Day Parade in 1969 onward.
The March of the Volunteers was restored by the National People's Congress in 1978, but with different lyrics; however, these new lyrics were never very popular and caused a great deal of confusion. For example, the last sentence of the lyrics read "raise high Chairman Mao's banner".
During China's 1981 volleyball World Cup victories, both the old and new lyrics were sung simultaneously amongst fans. On 4 December 1982, the National People's Congress resolved to restore the original 1935 version by Tian Han as the official national anthem. Of note, the current lyrics do not mention either the Communist Party of China or Mao Zedong and the reversion of the lyrics was symbolic of the downfall of Hua Guofeng and the cult of personality of Mao and the ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping.
The National People's Congress made the song the official PRC anthem in a 2004 amendment of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. The anthem is mentioned immediately after the national flag.
The anthem was performed in an official capacity in Hong Kong for the first time following the handover of the territory to the PRC in 1997, and the handover of Macau in 1999. The English translation was then adopted by the University of Hong Kong for significant events such as graduation ceremonies.
The use of the anthem in Macau, China is governed in Law n.o 5/1999 (zh:第5/1999號法律, pt:Lei de Macau 5 de 1999) since 20 December 1999. Article 7 of the Law requires the national anthem to be accurately performed pursuant to the sheet music in Appendix 4 and prohibits the lyrics from being altered. Willfully failing to follow the sheet music or altering the lyric when performing the national anthem in public is criminally punishable by imprisonment of up to 3 years or up to 360 day-fines. The sheet music in Appendix 4 has the lyric in Chinese only without Portuguese translation even though both Chinese and Portuguese are official languages of Macau. There are no analogous laws in Hong Kong or in mainland China.
Original lyrics (currently in use)
Qǐlái! Búyuàn zuò núlì de rénmen!
Arise! All those who don't want to be slaves!
Lyrics in use from 1978 to 1982
Qiánjìn! Gè mínzú yīngxióng de rénmín,
March on! Heroes of every ethnic group!
*The rhythm in these lines is actually slightly altered as Gòngchǎndǎng has an additional syllable than xuèròu in original lyrics.
The tune has been referenced in other musical compositions:
- The American musician Paul Robeson sang it in Russia and the USA (for an audience of 7,000 at an open concert in New York City in 1940), both in English and Chinese, with his own modified lyrics to more specifically address African Americans, as he also did with his unofficial translation of the National Anthem of the Soviet Union. In both cases he kept the tune of the original song.
- The Slovenian group Laibach created an electronic version of the anthem with lyrics in both English and Mandarin for their album Volk.
- The British musician Damon Albarn included a loose and upbeat version in his soundtrack based on the stage musical Monkey: Journey to the West.
- The German musician Holger Czukay included a cut-up instrumental version on his album Der Osten ist Rot.
- Historical Chinese anthems
- Flag of the People's Republic of China
- National Emblem of the People's Republic of China
- Per Resolution on the Capital, Calendar, National Anthem and National Flag of the People's Republic of China.
- Per Annex III of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region when the Resolution on the Capital (Beijing), Calendar, National Anthem and National Flag of the People's Republic of China would be applied in Hong Kong with effect from 1 July 1997 by way of promulgation or legislation by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
- Per Annex III of the Basic Law of the Macao Special Administrative Region when the Resolution on the Capital, Calendar, National Anthem and National Flag of the People's Republic of China would be applied in Macao with effect from 20 December 1999 by way of promulgation or legislation by the Macao Special Administrative Region. On the same day, Law n.o 5/1999 (zh:第5/1999號法律, pt:Lei de Macau 5 de 1999) became effective to regulate the anthem.
- Per Article 31 of the Amendment four of the Constitution of the People's Repu of China
- "China - March of the Volunteers". NationalAnthems.me. Retrieved 2011-11-25.
- "HKFA". Ipac.hkfa.lcsd.gov.hk. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
- Malm, William. Music Cultures of the Pacific, the Near East, and Asia. 3. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 1996. 1-278. Print., p.197.
- Pang, Laikwan. Building a new China in cinema: the Chinese left-wing cinema movement, 1932-1937. Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc, 2002. Print., p.3
- Simplified Chinese: 中国民族到了大翻身的时候; Pinyin: Zhōngguó mínzú dàole dà fānshēn deshíhòu
- news.bbc.co.uk[not in citation given]
- The PRC anthem from the PRC's official government webportal (www.gov.cn)
- big5.eastday.com. "big5.eastday.com." 新中國國歌歌詞改換風波 . Retrieved on 2009-09-27.
- Sina.com. "Sina.com." 國歌歌詞曾是高舉毛澤東旗幟前進. Retrieved on 2009-09-27.
- "Paul Robeson and "The March of the Volunteers"". English.cri.cn. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
- "Music - Review of Monkey - Journey to the West". BBC. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
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