By Jerome Taylor and Yan Zhao
A defiant protest anthem penned by an anonymous composer has become the unofficial new soundtrack to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, belted out by crowds at flashmobs in malls, on the streets and in the football stands.
“Glory to Hong Kong” first appeared on YouTube on 31 August and has quickly won a huge following among those pushing for greater democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
In less than a fortnight the original version has racked up more than 1.3 million views while multiple copycats videos have been made — including one featuring an entire orchestra decked out in the helmets, goggles and gas masks worn by those on the barricades.
Each night this week protesters have gathered at different malls across the city for impromptu flashmob concerts.
At a mall in the town of Sha Tin on Wednesday night hundreds of activists gathered to sing, many of them reading from scraps of paper with the lyrics on them.
“For all our tears on our land/Do you feel the rage in our cries,” the latest song begins. “Rise up and speak up, our voice echoes/Freedom shall shine upon us”.
Alongside the Christian hymn “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”, “Glory to Hong Kong” is a riposte to the city’s unelected leaders and Beijing after more than three months of huge and sometimes violent protests.
Little is known about the composer, who gave himself the online pseudonym “Thomas dgx yhl”.
But the song’s lyrics and melody have quickly spread within the movement.
During a football match on Tuesday night between Hong Kong and Iran, crowds of local fans booed the Chinese national anthem, and then sung the new protest song as the match began.
Insulting China’s flag and anthem is banned on the mainland and Hong Kong’s local government are currently trying to pass a similar law.
Critics say that move is another blow to the free speech guarantees Hong Kong is supposed to maintain under the handover deal China agreed with Britain.
In response, dozens of pro-Beijing demonstrators congregated in IFC Mall in Central on Thursday waving five-starred red flags and singing the national anthem. A rival group quickly formed around them, belting out “Glory to Hong Kong.”
‘An anthem that belongs’
Christopher Chung, 22, said he planned to sing the new protest song over China’s communist anthem “March of the Volunteers.”
“I think the respect people pay when singing a national anthem should come out from one’s heart, instead of using law and rules to force people to respect it,” he told AFP.
“We really dislike the Chinese national anthem,” added Billy, 16, who declined to give his surname. “That’s why we want to sing an anthem that belongs to Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong’s summer of rage was sparked by a widely reviled plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.
But after local leaders and Beijing took a hardline it snowballed into a wider movement pushing for democracy and police accountability.
Huge crowds have marched repeatedly throughout the last 15 weeks of protests — and many confrontations with police have turned violent.
Music has long been central to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement.
A host of protest songs have been sung for years at the 4 June vigils commemorating the Tiananmen crackdown.
During 2014’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests, the three most popular protest songs were “Do you hear the people sing”, from the musical “Les Miserables”, “Raise the Umbrellas” — a track written for the movement by a group of Cantonese pop-stars — and “Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies”, a famous ballad by Hong Kong rock band “Beyond” from the early 1990s.
Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer who has written a book on the city’s protest movements, said songs sung in 2014 were characterised by optimism that things might change.
‘Glory to Hong Kong’ at Shatin New Town Plaza this evening 9/11. As this new #HK anthem courses through the city, one person said to me, ‘It feels like a new nation is being born.’ pic.twitter.com/F9jLD1ueTj
— Kong Tsung-gan / 江松澗 (@KongTsungGan) September 11, 2019
But in the five years since — with no concessions from Beijing and protesters embracing more confrontational tactics — the music has darkened to match the mood on the streets.
“The soundtrack of the movement is much more sombre,” he told AFP. “The funereal “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”, the “death rattle” of protesters beating their shields and road signs, and now this solemn, defiant anthem.”
Additional reporting: Jennifer Creery
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