Friday, September 13, 2019

A Song for Hong Kong

The newly-composed, virally-learned anthem of the Hong Kong Protest Movement has been sung openly by large crowds of people peacefully gathered in public places all over the region in the past two days.

This is a historic moment. People have begun calling it "Hong Kong's National Anthem."

A musician who uses the pseudonym "Thomas" or "T" began circulating a "marching anthem" with words on the Protesters' Internet. Individuals and groups recorded vocals, and their contributions were "mixed" the way many songs are made today in music studios (but with production software that is accessible to anyone; you probably have it pre-installed on your iPhone).

The result was the first video linked below. The 2 million views since August 31 are just on this anonymous YouTube channel; it has circulated in various ways. For once, something has "gone viral" that really does deserve widespread attention.

I don't know who did the English "translation" (or rather "versification") in the subtitles; it's clumsy and wordy compared to the original, but it does give us English-only-speakers an idea of what they are singing. The language, by the way, is NOT Mandarin. It is Cantonese, which is the popular language in Hong Kong and in that whole area of South China.

I don't know either of these languages, but I know that this distinction is very important to the people - among the many things that Beijing wants to impose on HK is the "standardized language" of Mandarin (at least, this is what people fear).

Watch and listen to the original video here: [n.b. it was taken down and then reposted to the same YouTube channel on October 1]

The story of this first video is remarkable enough in itself. But the truly amazing story is exemplified by the videos linked at the end of this post. In less than two weeks, thousands of people have learned to sing this anthem and are singing it in public.

People have gathered in streets, parks, and shopping malls to sing this song. Ensembles and soloists have performed it or posted videos. At a local FIFA soccer match on September 12, not only did the crowd boo the Communist Chinese National Anthem (which was recently imposed on them "by law"). They sang this anthem, "Glory to Hong Kong."

At halftime, they sang it again, just to make sure Beijing heard it loud and clear.

Hong Kong has a peculiar history (I'm boning up on it, don't worry). The region was barely inhabited when the British established the colony as a sort of military/mercantile base there in the 19th century. Cantonese immigrants came, did the grunt work of building the town for the British, and thereafter constituted the vast majority of its population.

After the Communist victory on the mainland, people fled from all parts of China to British Hong Kong. Then they were passed back to China in 1997, under an agreement they had no say in making.

Hong Kong has always been a distinctive place - a meeting point "between East and West" - and if they have not always been a distinctive "people," they are being forged into a new people by the events of this past decade. These events are an organic rising up to meet the challenge of a repression that is trying to subvert and destroy the natural evolution of local political, juridical, and social institutions.

The Hong Kong people call this their "revolution," but it's not a revolution in the destructive or ideologically imposing sense of that term. The people do not want to tear down what they have already built; rather, they want the defense of persons and communities, and the reasonable reform and development of already-existing institutions that mediate a common life lived in an open human space, a place where freedom is possible.

I can't argue with people who think that's worth defending - who take risks in order to be free to tend their own garden. This is what makes history. And after hearing this anthem and seeing and hearing these people, I have hope for them, that - whether now or in a future that is beginning now - they will prevail. The world will be enriched by a new, vital contribution from the Hong Kong people. It already has been.

And none of these people will forget what has begun in these days. They have more than a movement now. They have a song. A crowd can be dispersed and a movement suppressed. It's nearly impossible, however, to remove music from people's hearts.

The video above is at a shopping mall. It's not just protesters singing here. It's the entire mall. Behind the protesters who have demonstrated this Summer stands a large percentage of Hong Kong's population who support them or are at least sympathetic to them.

Below: a protesters' orchestra and protesters' choir gathered in an undisclosed place, with everyone wearing masks, and recorded this moving version