Music has emerged as a potent force in Hong Kong’s political unrest.
Protesters have turned to song to express their frustrations with the government and solidarity with each other.
These songs have run the gamut from Broadway musical numbers and Christian hymns to television theme songs and Cantopop hits.
And now, artists in Hong Kong have begun crafting their own anthems for the city.
Do you hear the people sing?
Glory to Hong Kong
It’s only a week old, but “Glory to Hong Kong” has already become the protest movement’s most popular song, with some even calling it Hong Kong’s unofficial “national anthem.”
At a recent soccer match between Hong Kong and Iran, thousands of spectators drowned out the Chinese national anthem with this song.
Not much is known about the composer, “Thomas,” a full-time musician in his mid-20s who asked to be identified only by his first name, but he has told the press that he composed the song in August in hopes of creating an anthem for the movement.
A video of this song put together by “young creatives” and attributed to the “Black Blorchestra” shows musicians clad in black and wearing gas masks playing as clouds of tear gas roll through their ranks.
Sing Hallelujah to the Lord
Before “Glory to Hong Kong,” this Christian hymn, composed in the 1970s by Linda Stassen-Benjamin in the United States, was the song of choice at protests, unusual considering only about 10% of Hong Kong’s population is Christian.
The lyrics are simple, with the five words repeated over four stanzas in minor key, and when sung by thousands of protesters, the city turns into a kind of cathedral, inspiring awe among onlookers.
“Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” became a mainstay of Hong Kong’s protests when Christian groups joined the demonstrations. Congregations would sing the hymn and other religious songs at protest sites.
Non-Christian protesters later adopted the song in hopes of providing some cover for their activities, since religious gatherings can be held without a permit in Hong Kong.
The hymn’s use in the protests led to the song being wiped from music streaming websites in mainland China.
Do You Hear the People Sing?
The centerpiece of the 1987 Broadway musical Les Misérables, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” gained notoriety as a Hong Kong protest song when clips circulated showing protesters singing the song while occupying the airport last month.
The song references the French Revolution, but its lyrics—“Do you hear the people sing? / Singing a song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again”—have made it a rousing protest anthem for Hong Kongers and many around the world.
During the impeachment protests against South Korean President Park Geun-hye in 2016, many Koreans sang a translated version of the song.
Below the Lion Rock
Before the composer of “Glory to Hong Kong” was even born, the city had an unofficial anthem in “Below the Lion Rock,” the theme song of a television show of the same name.
The song was written in 1979 and continues to unite Hong Kongers of that generation. The television show featured stories of everyday life in Hong Kong and honored the “Lion Rock spirit,” that can-do attitude that is said to set Hong Kong apart from other cities.
Lion Rock refers to a mountain in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong with a granite face resembling a crouching lion.
Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies
This power ballad from legendary Hong Kong band Beyond took on greater poignancy when the group’s lead singer died in 1993.
Since then, the song has become a rallying cry for Hong Kongers, heard at nearly every demonstration and protest in the city.
With lyrics like “Many times I’ve faced the cold shoulder and ridicule / But I’ve never given up the hopes or ideals in my heart,” and “Still I am free / Still I am independent / Forever loudly singing my song,” it is comfortably at home in pro-democracy demonstrations. Think of is as “Below the Lion Rock” for a younger crowd.
Raise the Umbrellas
Before the most recent wave of protests, there was the so-called Umbrella Movement of 2014. That, too, was fertile ground for homegrown protest anthems that still resonate with today’s activists.
In the Umbrella Movement’s early days, the city’s famous entertainers stayed relatively quiet.
That changed with “Raise the Umbrellas,” a song penned by activist Lo Hiu-pan and composer Lin Xi—who also wrote the theme song for the Beijing Olympics—and performed by stars Denise Ho, Anthony Wong, and Deanie Ip.
The song’s title refers to the umbrellas that protesters used to shield themselves from tear gas and pepper spray.
For many young Hong Kongers, the song represented their first exposure to civil disobedience.
The most recent pop song to address—some cynics would say “capitalize on”—the protests is “Add Oil” by Hong Kong DJ, singer, and comedian Jan Lamb.
The bouncy, almost frothy, pop trinket still manages to inspire as it extols Hong Kongers to “add oil,” the defining slogan of the protests that roughly translates to “keep it up.”
The release of “Add Oil” coincides with Lamb’s new tour, so depending on how that goes, we may see more new “protest hits” coming down the line.
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.