In the second half of July 2021, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) celebrated its 100th anniversary. But not everyone knows that 2020 marks the 85th anniversary of the “March of the Volunteers” (義勇軍進行曲), a piece of music that, since 1935, has given strength and resilience to the CCP during the years of war and alienation, and the anthem of the PRC has given confidence in the construction of a new China and pride in the country.

The last forty years of the history of the PRC are truly impressive. Huge successes achieved in economic development, social sphere, scientific and technological progress, etc. testify that “the Chinese nation, which has experienced innumerable disasters since the beginning of modern history, “rose to its feet, began to live a better life” and is turning into a strong and powerful nation, moving towards the bright prospects of a great revival” (Pivovarova E.P.). And all this happened to the tune of the “March of the Volunteers”.

The history of the appearance of the “March” itself is quite interesting. As you know, in the 30s of the twentieth century, China suffered many difficult trials. To the struggle between the forces of the communists and the formally ruling Kuomintang party, the factor of external aggression was added – the invasion of Japan. It began back in 1931, when Japanese troops occupied Manchuria, i.e. the entire northeast of China. Rejection of the enemy was also reflected in the works that were published during these difficult years. In 1935, the anti-Japanese film “Children of the Storm” (风云儿女) was released , where viewers remembered more not the video sequence, but the main song in the film – “March of the Volunteers”.

The author of the text of the march was the then famous playwright Tian Han (田漢), who wrote a patriotic poem back in 1934. Legend has it that Tian Han composed the text in prison, where, having no paper, he wrote the lines on the back of the foil at the bottom of a cigarette case. Then, through his acquaintances, he passed it on to the young composer, the communist Ne Eru (聂耳), who was then in Japan and who managed to bring the text and music to synergy. The rhythm of the melody included the sounds of the army advancing (the beginning), a percussive middle and an inspiring final part with repetition. The text with notes was sent to Shanghai (Nie Er himself died tragically in 1935, drowning while swimming in the sea – E.B. ). At home, the composition was performed and recorded on a gramophone record. After the premiere of the film “Children of the Storm,” it gained popularity among the people and parts of the Chinese army, becoming the basis for a decade of raising the morale of the Chinese communists and all those who fought against the Japanese occupation. It was performed many times at official party events and was sung before battles.

Before becoming the national anthem of China, “March of the Volunteers” was chosen as one of the military songs of the Republic of China Army. Famous Chinese historian Huang Renyu , who during the war of 1937-1945. was an officer of the General Staff of the Kuomintang Army, recalled that: “When our headquarters was in the Caotang Si Temple in Chengdu, the officers sang many times: “Get up, everyone, all as one, through enemy fire, forward, forward!” We tried to pronounce these words of the song as loudly as possible, which evokes memories of the majestic atmosphere of the times of the War of Resistance.”

It should be noted that “March of the Volunteers” was not created to become the main song of the country. However, the composition from the film of the 30s ended up on the lips of all citizens of the Celestial Empire with a population of more than a billion. But this was only the intermediate peak of the song’s popularity. It will take the highest position only after the victory of the CPC forces in the civil war and the formation of the PRC in 1949, when the question arose about the anthem of the new country.

In June 1949, the founding committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) formed a working group responsible for drafting a new anthem. At the same time, a few months before the formation of the PRC, the “March of Volunteers” solemnly sounded on the streets of the Chinese capital on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the start of the Anti-Japanese War (1937). This happened on July 7, 1949. Then, the “March of Volunteers” was performed by a military orchestra in the presence of more than 200 thousand residents of Beiping (Beijing), illuminated by fireworks. As eyewitnesses said, people in the square recalled the war with excitement and anxiety to the sounds of a painfully familiar melody that echoed in the heart of every resident of the capital, instilling hope for a better future.

After agreement with the top leadership of the party, the working group posted information about accepting texts and melodies for the main song of the country. Advertisements appeared on the pages of newspapers such as People’s Daily and Guangming Daily. By the end of September 1949, people from all over China and abroad had sent more than 600 variations of the anthem’s melody and about 700 variations of the lyrics to the working group. However, none of the proposed projects satisfied the group members. The issue of the anthem was brought up to a separate meeting of the CPPCC on September 25, 1949. It shows the chairman of the anthem working group, linguist Ma Xulun proposed leaving “March of the Volunteers” as the anthem. Leave it because the Chinese National Liberation Army (PLA) spent the previous few years of struggle against the forces of the Kuomintang to the sounds of this particular work. In fact, the “March” was already considered by the revolutionary forces of the communists as an anthem. All party leaders present agreed with his position. However, another opinion was voiced, as, for example, from the author of the text of “March” Tian Hanya and others , who considered that the words of the composition “ The hour of testing has come in China ” are inappropriate in the spirit of the times for the official anthem, proposing to change the lyrics of the song. Zhou Enlai, ( the first head of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China in 1949-1976 ) did not support this opinion and said that: “The Chinese nation has reached its most dangerous time. Song lyrics can only evoke emotions through original lyrics. After the modification, there will be no such emotions when singing ”

The final word was given to the leader of the Chinese Communists, Mao Zedong. He urged his colleagues not to forget the hardships the Communists went through to found New China. Mao also believed that a terrible hour would strike the country while it was surrounded by imperialist forces. Thus, the change to the original text of the “March of Volunteers” was rejected, and the march itself was approved as the anthem of the young republic. On September 28, 1949, the “March of the Volunteers” was first published as the National Anthem of the country in the People’s Daily newspaper. And already on October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong announced to the world the formation of the People’s Republic of China. A red banner with five stars soared into the sky above a crowded Tiananmen Square. He was accompanied at that moment by the booming roar of the “March of the Volunteers”:

“Get up, people,
We can’t be slaves!
We are the new Great Wall
Let’s build with our bodies!”

The anthem embodied the best traditions of the Chinese nation: courage, strong will and unity in the fight against the enemy.

The March of Volunteers did not create problems for the Chinese leadership before the start of the Cultural Revolution. However, in 1966, the author of the text of the anthem Tian Han was arrested for one of his plays – “Guan Hanqing” (1958). Orthodox Maoists found anti-socialist views in his works. Democracy and patriotism of Guan Hanqing (Chinese playwright XIII century) , his closeness to the common people, his honesty, straightforwardness, intransigence; softness and spiritual subtlety combined with perseverance and courage; condemnation of violence and arbitrariness, corruption and greed of officials; The courage to openly express one’s views and the willingness to die for one’s beliefs frightened the orthodox communists. It was the political relevance of this play that was one of the reasons for the persecution of Tian Hania during the “cultural revolution”, since his bourgeois worldview “at the stage of the socialist revolution revealed its counter-revolutionary essence with all its ugliness.” As a result of bullying, the name Tian Hanya disappeared from the pages of newspapers and magazines. “Literary critics,” hiding behind various pseudonyms, wrote political denunciations accusing Tian Hania in the propaganda of bourgeois ideology, anti-party and anti-socialist activities, etc. The playwright was demonstrably convicted and sent to prison, where he died two years later (December 10, 1968). Words written by an enemy of the revolution could no longer be performed in public places and at official events.

However, the anthem was not officially changed throughout the 10 years of the “cultural revolution” (1966-1976). All that was left of it was the melody: it was performed without voice accompaniment. Those who violated the ban on singing the words of the anthem were subject to punishment. After Chairman Mao passed away and the collapse of the power of the “gang of four” (1976), in 1978, by a separate resolution of the National People’s Congress ( NPC), amendments were made to the original text of the “March of the Volunteers”. The neutral theme of the struggle for freedom and prosperity of China was replaced by “raising the banner of Mao Zedong” (高举毛泽东旗帜). The march became more politicized and did not reflect the intended Tian Hanem of sublime meaning.

However, as a sign of respect for the communists of the past, at the 2nd session of the 5th convocation of the NPC (1979), the deputies proposed returning to the original version of the “March of Volunteers” and on December 4, 1982, at the 5th session of the 5th convocation of the NPC, the “Resolution on the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China”, which canceled the new words adopted by the NPC on March 5, 1978.

In 2004, the “Amendment to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China” adopted at the 2nd session of the 10th National People’s Congress added a paragraph to Article 136: “The National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China is the “March of the Volunteers.” The national anthem, like the national flag and coat of arms, is a symbol of the country.” Thus , from that time on , the “March of the Volunteers” became de jure the anthem of the Celestial Empire in its original composition.

In 1979, with the beginning of the “policy of reform and opening up” in China, Tian Han was posthumously rehabilitated. Today, the author of the words to the national anthem in the capital of the Celestial Empire is reminded of by a small gray house in one of the courtyards of the Beijing Siheyuan hutong, which encouraged Tian Han in 1953 and is commemorated by two small plaques with the inscription “田汉故居” (“Former Residence of Tian Hanya”) and a brief description of his life.

In modern China, many musical works of the past have undergone one or another alteration, performed within the framework of new genres. But they never tried to perform “March of the Volunteers” in rock arrangements or distort its meaning. Today, according to the law, the anthem of the People’s Republic of China is protected from theoretical attempts at mockery. At the 28th session of the 12th convocation of the National People’s Congress (2017), deputies first introduced and then adopted the “Law on the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China.” The law clearly defined the events and places in which the “March of Volunteers” is permitted. These are the most solemn public holidays, funerals of prominent political and public figures, flag raising ceremonies, international meetings and competitions. Any deliberate distortion of the text of the “March” or performance of the anthem that discredits the honor of the country will entail administrative punishment.

Today, the “March of Volunteers” still leads the Chinese communists and the Celestial Empire to great achievements, to the “rebirth of the Chinese nation” and the embodiment of the “Chinese dream” in the conditions of the “new historical era”, when the PRC, with its successes in political, economic, social, cultural, scientific, technological and other fields, continues to attract the attention of the rest of humanity, listening with admiration to the words of Chinese President Xi Jinping that “History favors only those who demonstrate strong determination, forward striving and valor in the struggle, it does not wait for the indecisive, lazy and giving in to difficulties”.

E. Baydarov, China Studies Centre