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The Chinese National Anthem
originally posted December 11, 2009

Last week Jawk, one of our visitors to our Chinese corner, brought me the music and lyrics for the Chinese national anthem, the "Volunteer Army Marching Song".  I'm proud to say that I'm now able to sing it without stumbling or blocking on the words.  This lead to the following dialogue with one of my students:

Student:  Why are you doing that?

Me: If you came to Canada, wouldn't you learn the Canadian national anthem?

Student: Of course.

Me: Then why wouldn't I learn the Chinese national anthem?

So, for all you 外国人 (wi gu rn literally outside country person = foreigner) in China, here it is: The Chinese national anthem, with pinyin pronunciation guide and translation.

田汉(1898-1968) 作词,




前进, advance

y yǒng jūn jn xng qǔhu rn mn gng h gu gu gē
tin hn (1898-1968)  zu c, 
ni ěr (1912-1935)zu qǔ

qǐ li
b yun zu n l de rn men
bǎ wǒ men de xu ru,  
zh chng wǒ men xīn de chng chng!

zhōng hu mn z do liǎo
zu wēi xiǎn de sh hu,
měi g rn bi p zhe
fā chū zu hu de hǒu shēng li!
qǐ li!

wǒ men wn zhng y xīn
mo zhe d rn de po huǒ
qin jn!
mo zhe d rn de po huǒ
qin jn !
qin jn!
qin jn jn!

Volunteer Army Marching Song
China Peoples Republic national anthem.
Tin Hn (1898-1968)  lyrics,
Ni ěr (1912-1935) music

Rise up
Not willing to be slaves
Out of our flesh and blood
Build our new Great Wall

The Chinese people at last
In most dangerous times
Every individual compelled
Send out the ultimate roar.
Rise up
Rise up
Rise up

We in complete unity
Brave the enemy artillery
Brave the enemy artillery
Advance, forward!

My translation is a little loose, not word for word.  For example, the Chinese say "blood flesh", where we would say "flesh and blood".  Also, 长城 (chng chng) can be translated as "Great Wall" or simply "impregnable barrier".  And 万众一心(wn zhng y xīn)  word for word is "ten thousand crowd one heart" through it really means "complete unity". But I think as a translation into English, mine will serve well enough.
     The melody for this anthem makes a great marching song.  The combination of melody and rhythm just makes me feel like marching into that bright future.  But for us the lyrics sound out of date, almost quaint.  To us it sounds isolationist, with the line about building a new Great Wall, and militaristically paranoid with the line about facing enemy artillery.  You'll note that Tin Hn, the man who wrote these lyrics, died in 1968.  His words reflect a different time, and a different history.  But all my students are very patriotic.  They love their country, and love China's anthem.  So I was surprised to learn that some Chinese are also saying that this anthem is out of date, and pushing to adopt 茉莉花 (m li huā, jasmine flower) as the national anthem. 
     茉莉花 (m li huā) is a beautiful melody, a musical icon of China, and perhaps China's most famous and recognizable piece of music.  Far from being a marching song, or aggressively militaristic, it goes to the other extreme, and lacks the heart thumping adrenalin inspiration of the current anthem.
     I ask my students if they like their anthem, and they all say "of course".  They are surprised to hear that I don't like my own very much.  To me the Canadian anthem also seems out of date, with it's gender bias (In all our sons' command?  What about the daughters?) and paranoia (All that standing on guard.  Just doesn't seem to fit an age of globalization.)
     I tell my Chinese students that I have learned to sing the words to their national anthem, but for me it will never have the resonance, the deep emotion, that it has for them.  For that, you need to grow up in China.

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