In the days following Hong Kong’s National Security Education Day, it behoves us all to do our bit. So, I propose to offer a warning: it is not only ice hockey players who need to be careful when roaming the internet looking for music.

We are all aware, I trust, of the dangers of Googling “Hong Kong national anthem”. There is a serious possibility that you will arrive not at the March of the Volunteers – which is ours because it is China’s, as we are – but at the Ditty which Dare not Speak its Name, at least in the respectful newspapers.

Glory to Hong Kong
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Just so you will know what to avoid, here is a particularly shameless version of Glory to Hong Kong, performed by an orchestra dressed in what Hong Kong judges now regard as rioter uniforms. The lyrics, in the English version at least, seem to be mainly concerned with freedom, which is more than you can say for the judges.

Another trap for the unwary is Do You Hear the People Sing. This is from Les Miserables, a musical tribute to the French Revolution, and the sentiments expressed are very generic:

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

It was a popular number during Hong Kong’s restless period, which is enough to condemn it by association. It is banned in nearby places.

While we are on the French Revolution, you should also be wary of Ca Ira, a French song of the period here sung by one of my idols, Edith Piaf. The problem with this is its enduring call for “Les aristocrats a la lanterne”, which can be roughly translated as “The aristocrats should be hanged from the lampposts”. This could be classified as terrorism.

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Dangers lurk in the most surprising places. The Internationale, for example, was at one time used as an anthem of China. This now seems a throwback to the days when the Communist Party was a revolution, not an establishment. Who would now approve of this passage from its third verse:

The state is false, the law mockery, and exploitation bows us down;
The rich man flaunts without a duty, and the poor man’s rights are none.

Or we can take that stalwart of British Labour Party conferences, The Red Flag. It is a commonplace observation in Labour circles that nobody knows the words, except for the chorus, which goes like this:

Then raise the scarlet standard high.
Within its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

Now I suppose, possibly erroneously, that there could be no possible objection to this on National Security grounds, as the official flags of both Hong Kong and China are mostly red. But consider this disastrous passage from verse two:

Look ’round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,
The sturdy German chants its praise,
In Moscow’s vaults its hymns are sung
Chicago swells the surging throng.

This is the sort of international connection against which Article 23 of the Basic Law warns us.

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Another trap for the unwary is sedition, which includes conduct that tends “to promote feelings of ill-will and enmity between different classes of the population of Hong Kong”. This could be held to cover works like that music hall classic They’re Moving Father’s Grave to Build a Sewer, which includes lines like:

They’re moving his remains, to lay down nine-inch drains.
To irrigate some rich bloke’s residence.

There is also the blatantly subversive chorus from She Was Poor but She Was Honest:

It’s the same the whole world over,
It’s the poor what gets the blame,
It’s the rich what gets the pleasure,
Ain’t it all a blooming shame?

Then there are disrespectful and disparaging diatribes about our elders and betters like this.

My most surprising horror find was a song by The Dubliners. This was surprising because The Dubliners were an Irish group whose oeuvre comprised mostly songs about the pleasures of booze, interspersed with occasional visits to ancient heroes like Roddy MacCorley or Kelly the Boy From Killane, whose political proclivities are safely obscured by the mists of time.

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However, they also did a song called Free the People, whose title should perhaps have been a warning — freedom is a dangerous aspiration these days — which has two verses stunningly reminiscent of the slanderous things that so-called committees put in their so-called reports on the Hong Kong legal system:

The dismal dawn was breaking
When they took her man away
Not knowing what was his crime
Just what was he guilty of
Not one of them could say
But they’ll think of something in time
He says goodbye and remembers
We shall overcome

Comforting her children
Softly crying in the night
She tried very hard to explain
You know your daddy never did a thing
That wasn’t right
So soon he’s bound to be home again
He is a good man
And we shall overcome

To end on a happier note, there are also pleasant surprises. Consider, for example, a prescient tribute to the gentleman we are now expected to refer to as Our President, recorded by Charles Aznavour in 1974. Sample, with seven verses to follow:

Xi may be the face I can’t forget
A trace of pleasure or regret
May be my treasure or the price I have to pay.

HKFP is an impartial platform & does not necessarily share the views of opinion writers or advertisers. HKFP presents a diversity of views & regularly invites figures across the political spectrum to write for us. Press freedom is guaranteed under the Basic Law, security law, Bill of Rights and Chinese constitution. Opinion pieces aim to point out errors or defects in the government, law or policies, or aim to suggest ideas or alterations via legal means without an intention of hatred, discontent or hostility against the authorities or other communities.

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Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.