The Chinese National Anthem
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:
are you doing that?
Me: If you came to
Canada, wouldn't you learn the Canadian national anthem?
Me: Then why
wouldn't I learn the Chinese national anthem?
So, for all you
外国人 (wài guó rén literally outside country person = foreigner) in China,
here it is: The Chinese national anthem, with pinyin pronunciation guide
xíng qǔhuá rén mín
gòng hé guó guó gē
(1898-1968) zuò cí,
niè ěr (1912-1935)zuò qǔ
bú yuàn zuò nú lì de rén men
bǎ wǒ men de xuè ròu,
zhù chéng wǒ men xīn de cháng chéng!
huá mín zú dào liǎo
qián jìn !
Volunteer Army Marching Song
China People’s Republic national anthem.
Tián Hàn (1898-1968) lyrics,
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.
We in complete unity
Brave the enemy artillery
Brave the enemy artillery
My translation is a little loose, not word for word. For
example, the Chinese say "blood flesh", where we would say "flesh and
chéng) can be translated as "Great Wall" or simply "impregnable
barrier". And 万众一心(wàn zhòng
yì 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.
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 But for us the lyrics sound out of date,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
Tián Hàn, 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
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anthem is out of date, and pushing to adopt 茉莉花 (mò li huā, jasmine
flower) as the national anthem.
茉莉花 (mò 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.
The Man in China archive index
The Incredible Summer of 2010 Wedding and
The Man in China Home