History of the national anthem
“March of the Volunteers” is the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China. It was originally the theme song of Sons and Daughters in a Time of Storm (1935), a movie about fighting against Japan Aggression and saving the country. The song was written by the noted poet Tian Han with music by the famous composer Nie Er (see note). The original story of Sons and Daughters in a Time of Storm was created by Tian. It depicts the heroic stories of young people marching to the front line to defend their country against Japanese occupation in the early 1930s.
The 1930s, which unveiled the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in the history of modern China, threw the entire Chinese nation into a life-and-death situation. On 18 September 1931, induced by the Japanese militarism, the Japanese Imperial Army launched an outrageous attack and occupied northeast China. This attack, which is later called the “Mukden Incident” provoked the strong resistance of the Chinese people. There were different sorts of campaigns against Japanese Aggression everywhere to call upon people to save the country. Tian Han and Nie Er’s “March of the Volunteers” was one of the songs to propagate the message of anti-aggression. With its strong regular rhythm and uplifting tune, the song captures the fearless and tenacious fighting spirit of the Chinese nation.
“March of the Volunteers” circulated extensively throughout the country after the movie Sons and Daughters in a Time of Storm premiered in May 1935. On 27 September 1949, the First Plenary Session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference decided: Before the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China was formally formulated, “The March of Volunteers” composed by Tian Han and Nie Er was adopted as the provisional national anthem. On 1 October 1949, the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China was established. At Tiananmen Square in Beijing, with the rise of the “Five-star Red Flag”, “March of the Volunteers” resonated for the first time at Tiananmen Square.
On 14 March 2004, the Tenth National People’s Congress passed the “Constitution (Amendment)” and added a paragraph to Article 136 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, stipulating that “March of the Volunteers” shall be the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China.
On 1 September 2017, the Twenty-ninth Session of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People’s Congress passed the “National Anthem Law of the People’s Republic of China”, which took effect in the country from 1 October 2017. On 4 November 2017, the Thirtieth Session of the Standing Committee of the Twelfth National People’s Congress agreed to add the “National Anthem Law of the People’s Republic of China” to Annex III to the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. In parallel, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government announced that, pursuant to Article 18 of the Basic Law, the “National Anthem Law of the People’s Republic of China” would be implemented in the HKSAR by way of local legislation consistent with the constitutional and legal regime of the HKSAR. On 4 June 2020, the National Anthem Bill was passed at Third Reading by the Legislative Council. On 11 June 2020, the Chief Executive signed the National Anthem Ordinance in accordance with Article 48(1)(3) of the Basic Law. The National Anthem Ordinance came into immediate effect on the next day, 12 June after it was being gazetted.
Music: Nie Er (1912-1935), formerly known as NieShouxin, was born in Kunming, Yunnan. As a teenager, he already showed a keen interest in music. He moved to Shanghai and wrote “March of the Volunteers”.
Lyrics: Tian Han (1898-1968), also named Shouchang, was born in Changsha, Hunan. He was a pioneer in modern drama and opera reform movement of China. He once studied in Japan.
Lyrics of “March of the Volunteers”(Audio track – Choir)
Arise, we who refuse to be slaves!
With our very flesh and blood,
Let us build our new Great Wall!
The peoples of China are at their most critical time,
Everybody must roar defiance.
Millions of hearts with one mind, Brave the enemy’s gunfire,
Brave the enemy’s gunfire, March on!
March on, on!
The content of the lyrics which reflects that the country was in a grim situation. For example, the lines “Arise, we who refuse to be slaves!” and “Brave the enemy’s gunfire” imply that the nation was at war, while “The peoples of China are at their most critical time” and “Everybody must roar defiance” suggest that the nation was struggling for survival.
Musical features (Audio track – Instrumental)
“March of the Volunteers” is a march. The trumpet introduction imitates the sound of the bugle giving a strong sense of rhythm. Its musical features include:
a march in G major in duple time.
syllabic setting of the lyrics based on the rhythmic features of the song which creates an energetic mood.
the use of triplets in the introduction and the latter half of the song to enhance the expressiveness of the music.
When the national anthem is being played or sung, attendees should stand solemnly and deport themselves with dignity and behave in a way respectful to the national anthem.
1. The Central People’s Government, the People’s Republic of China – National Anthem
2. The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau – National Anthem