The East Is Red (song)

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"The East Is Red" (simplified Chinese: 东方红; traditional Chinese: 東方紅; pinyin: Dōngfāng Hóng) is a song that was the de facto anthem of the People's Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. The lyrics of the song were attributed to Li Youyuan, a farmer from northern Shaanxi, and the melody was derived from a local folk song. He allegedly got his inspiration upon seeing the rising sun in the morning of a sunny day.


Early history[edit]

The lyrics to "The East is Red" were adapted from an old Shaanxi folk song about love. The lyrics were often changed depending on the singer.[1] The modern lyrics were produced in 1942, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, attributed to a farmer from northern Shaanxi, Li Youyuan.[2] It is possible there was an earlier version which referred to Liu Zhidan, a local communist hero, who was killed in Shaanxi after the Chinese Red Army passed through the region during the Long March. Later, Mao's name replaced Liu's in the lyrics.[3] The song was popular in the Communist base-area of Yan'an, but became less popular after the Communists won the Chinese Civil War in 1949, possibly because some senior Party leaders disagreed with the song's portrayal of Mao Zedong as China's "savior".[2]

The lyrics of "The East is Red" idealize Mao Zedong, and Mao's popularization of "The East is Red" was one of his earliest efforts to promote his image as a perfect hero in Chinese popular culture after the Korean War. In 1956, a political commissar suggested to China's defense minister, Peng Dehuai, that the song be taught to Chinese troops, but Peng opposed Mao's propaganda, saying "That is a personality cult! That is idealism!" Peng's opposition to "The East is Red", and to Mao's incipient personality cult in general, contributed to Mao purging Peng in 1959. After Peng was purged, Mao accelerated his efforts to build his personality cult, and by 1966 succeeded in having "The East is Red" sung in place of China's national anthem.[4]

In 1964 Zhou Enlai used "The East is Red" as the central chorus for a play he produced to promote the personality cult of Mao Zedong, "March Forward under the Banner of Mao Zedong Thought". The theme of the play was that Mao was the only person capable of leading the Chinese Communist Party to victory. The play was performed by 2,000 artists, and was accompanied by a 1,000-man chorus. It was staged repeatedly in Beijing in order to ensure that all residents would be able to see it, and was later adapted to film that was shown all over China.[5]

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) Tian Han, the author of the China's official national anthem, "The March of the Volunteers", was purged, so his song was rarely used. "The East is Red" was used as China's unofficial national anthem during this time.[2] The song was played through PA systems in towns and villages across China at dawn and at dusk.[6] The Shanghai Customs House on the Bund played the song in place of the Westminster Chimes originally played by the British, and the Central People's Broadcasting Station began every day by playing the song on a set of bronze bells that had been cast over 2,000 years earlier, during the Warring States Period.[2] Broadcast shows usually began with the song "The East Is Red", and ended with the song "The Internationale". Students were obliged to sing the song in unison every morning at the very beginning of the first class of the day.

In 1969 the tune was used in the Yellow River Piano Concerto. The Concerto was produced by Jiang Qing and adapted from the Yellow River Cantata by Xian Xinghai. When she adapted the Cantata, Jiang added the tune to "The East is Red" in order to connect the Concerto with the themes of the Cultural Revolution.[7] After China launched its first satellite, in 1970, "The East is Red" was the first signal the craft sent back to Earth.[6]

Modern China[edit]

Because of its associations with the Cultural Revolution, the song was rarely heard after the rise of Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. Today in China the song is considered by some to be a somewhat unseemly reminder of the cult of personality associated with Mao. It's official use has largely been replaced by the "March of the Volunteers", whose lyrics mention neither the Communist Party nor Mao. "The East is Red" is still commonly heard in recordings played by electronic cigarette lighters bearing Mao's face that are popular with tourists.[8]

The tune of "The East Is Red" remains popular in Chinese popular culture. In 2009 it was voted as the most popular patriotic song in a Chinese government-run internet poll.[6] It has been played from the Drum Tower in Xi'an and at the top of every hour at the Beijing Railway Station.

Some radio stations in China have used the "The East is Red" as an Interval signal, including China Radio International (Indonesian Service) and Xinjiang People's Radio Station.


Simplified Chinese Traditional Chinese Pinyin English translation







Dōngfāng hóng, tàiyáng shēng,
Zhōngguó chū liǎo ge Máo Zédōng,
Tā wèi rénmín móu xìngfú,
Hū'ěr-hei-yo, tā shì rénmín dà jiùxīng!
(Repeat last two lines)

Máo zhǔxí, ài rénmín,
Tā shì wǒmén de dàilùrén
Wèi liǎo jiànshè xīn Zhōngguó,
Hū’ěr-hei-yo, lǐngdǎo wǒmén xiàng qiánjìn!
(Repeat last two lines)

Gòngchǎndǎng, xiàng tàiyáng,
Zhàodào nǎlǐ nǎlǐ liàng,
Nǎlǐ yǒu liǎo Gòngchǎndǎng,
Hū‘ěr-hei-yo, nǎlǐ rénmín dé jiěfàng!
(Repeat last two lines)

The east is red, the sun rises.
From China arises Mao Zedong.
He strives for the people's happiness,
Hurrah, he is the people's great savior!
(Repeat last two lines)

Chairman Mao loves the people.
He is our guide
to building a new China
Hurrah, lead us forward!
(Repeat last two lines)

The Communist Party is like the sun,
Wherever it shines, it is bright.
Wherever the Communist Party is,
Hurrah, there the people are liberated!
(Repeat last two lines)


Simplified Traditional Pinyin English




Zhīmayóu, báicài xīn,

Yào chī dòujiǎo ma chōujīn jīn.
Sān tiān bùjiàn xiǎng sǐ gèrén,
Hū er hāi yō,
Āiyā wǒ de sān gēgē.

Sesame oil, cabbage hearts,

Wanna eat string beans, break off the tips,
Get really lovesick if I don't see you for three days,
Oh dear, Third Brother mine.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Transformation of a Love Song",, accessed 2010-09-19
  2. ^ a b c d Kraus, Curt. Pianos and Politics in China: Middle-Class Ambitions and the Struggle over Western Music . New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  3. ^ Sun, Shuyun (2006). The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth. p. 190. ISBN 9780385520249. 
  4. ^ Domes, Jurgen. Peng Te-huai: The Man and the Image, London: C. Hurst & Company. 1985. ISBN 0-905838-99-8. p. 72
  5. ^ Barnouin, Barbara, and Yu Changgan. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2006. ISBN 962-996-280-2. p.217. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Foster, Peter. "East is Red is the siren song of China's new generation". The Telegraph. May 10, 2009. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  7. ^ Charlton, Alan. "Xian Xinghai Yellow River Piano Concerto". June 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  8. ^ "Embalming Mao",, accessed 2008-05-04

External links[edit]