Hong Kong: “We Yearn for Freedom with our Resounding Voices”

A song titled “Glory to Hong Kong” has quickly become the de facto anthem of the protest movement which has taken to the streets for the past three months calling for withdrawal of a proposed extradition bill. While the bill has since been withdrawn, protesters had already expanded their focus to broader demands for democracy and accountability for police violence.

Daniel Victor reports for The New York Times on the new anthem and its origins:

Thousands of people in Hong Kong Stadium on Tuesday turned their backs on the field as the Chinese anthem played before a World Cup qualifying match against Iran, drowning out the song with boos. Many Hong Kongers have never felt pride hearing the song — the semiautonomous territory does not have its own anthem — and they certainly do not now, as mass pro-democracy protests continue into a fourth month.

But in the stadium’s stands and concourses Tuesday, hordes of fans repeatedly sang a song created less than three weeks before, which some protesters have billed as their equivalent of a national anthem. And over the next two days, more than a dozen singalongs took place at shopping malls across the city, some attracting thousands of people.

Written and composed anonymously, then modified in online forums popular with protesters, “Glory to Hong Kong” features the kind of brass-heavy backing and soaring lyricism common to anthems, including the line “May people reign, proud and free, now and ever more.” In a slickly produced video version, an orchestra and choir dressed in protester garb — black shirts, helmets and gas masks — perform through a fog machine, meant to evoke images of tear gas. [Source]

In recent years, Hong Kong residents have taken to booing the Chinese national anthem when it is played at soccer matches, as they did during the recent World Cup qualifying game against Iran. A proposed law in Hong Kong would make “insulting the national anthem” a crime punishable up to three years; a similar law passed in China in 2017.

In the Guardian, Verna Yu writes about how the song has resonated with protesters:

Many Hongkongers say the singing lifts their spirits and boosts morale in their fight for democracy and basic rights. Some, tired of violent clashes in recent protests, said the singing was a powerful tool of solidarity and determination.

“The song spells out our heartfelt feelings. It is a song that stands for our fight,” said a 33-year-old man who gave his surname as Hung, who participated in singing at the football match and at a shopping centre on Wednesday.

Hung said singing was a good way of uniting supporters of the movement, on top of other non-violent expressions such as human chains and Lennon Walls – where people post sticky notes with pro-democracy messages – in communities across Hong Kong.

“Why are tears flowing on this land? Why are people angry? We lift our heads, we reject silence and we yearn for freedom with our resounding voices,” said the opening verse. [Source]

In an interview from The Stand News, translated by China Heritage, the anonymous songwriter, who goes by “T,” explains the process of writing the music:

T worked on the project from early June, but it wasn’t until mid August that inspiration finally struck and, when it did, it started at the end, with he struck on the melody that he would use for the last line of the song, ‘Bring Back the Glory’. With that as a start, the rest of the tune pretty much fell into place. Within two days, T had a finished score.

He says that he didn’t feel that Hong Kong people share the emotionalism or aggressiveness that you get with Russians. In us rather, as T observes, ‘there’s a modicum of the dignity you might find among the English’, ‘though without their kind of stiffness’. He wanted to reflect something that was a mix of the two; that’s why ‘Gloria’ opens with considerably solemnity but, then,

‘Later on, the song gives voice to the ideas of Justice, Freedom and Democracy, and as such the tempo shifts to creating a greater mood of uplift.’

From the start, ‘Glory’ was not going to be a pop tune since the composer favoured something in a more classical style: clear and concise lyrics, the tune that allowed each line to be made out clearly and a regular beat throughout. Many people can remember the tune only having heard it a couple of times, just as it is easy to sing. That’s just as it is supposed to be. [Source]

In an introduction to the translation of the interview at China Heritage, Geremie Barmé puts the song in historic context:

‘Bring Back the Glory’ features a number of terms and metaphors that have deep historical resonances. The darkness of night that swallows the very stars, as well as the promise of a new dawn are commonly found in the poetry and songs of many cultures when the struggle is joined again the forces of repression and people live in hope of a better future. In ‘Bring Back the Glory’, however, but the lyricist also evokes a particularly resonant expression from the May Fourth era (1917-1927) 吶喊, naa3 haam3 in Cantonese and nà hǎn in Standard Chinese usually translated as ‘a call to arms’. It is the title the 1922 collection of stories by Lu Xun, a champion of freedom and independent thought. The expression has resonated through the last century. It has featured in another chapter in this series (see ‘For We are Like Olives’, 6 September 2019), and it was in prominent display during the 1989 Beijing Protests Movement. The two characters 吶喊 nà hǎn were literally writ large for they appeared on a banner during the May 1989 student hunger strike, both as a plea to the government to respond to the students’ demands and an appeal to the people of Beijing to join the protests. It was a call that galvanised the Chinese capital. [Source]

Other versions have also surfaced online, and massive crowds have taken to singing it in shopping malls and other public spaces:

Counter-protesters have confronted “Glory to Hong Kong” choruses by singing the Chinese national anthem but their efforts have not been met with as much enthusiasm:

Others have turned to violence:

Artist Badiucao has created a flag to represent the protest movement, based on images from Lennon Walls that have sprung up in Hong Kong and around the world to express support for the protests:

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