Republican Blues

It was January 1912. The newly-formed Ministry of Education needed a national anthem for its new Republic. Letters were sent out to modernizing elites to start drafting suitably soul stirring texts.

A committee had read over three hundred submissions, but they were tossed out because they were not 'suitable.' It came down to the Republic's new boss Yuan Shikai to decide. He chose Song of the Green Clouds, 'green clouds' being a hallowed metaphor in Chinese for purity and loftiness. Choosing an anthem that would encapsulate the narrative of a new republic was not as easy as selecting the best stories of the nation or its best writers.

When Yuan Shikai died in June 1916 not before announcing that he would become the emperor in January, the country was run by warlord commanders and regional governors.

A number of national anthems circulated depending on who aspired to govern the nation. Yuan had chosen another anthem for the Republic in 1915 called China’s Strength and Power Strand Firm in the Cosmos. In this anthem, the epochal transformation from dynasty to republic is praised by none other than the mythical emperor Yao in the closing lines of the anthem.

Even the crumbling Qing Empire had its own anthem. In a diary entry dated September 28 1911, Yan Fu, one of China’s pre-eminent translators wrote that he was off to the 'Imperial Qing Guard Public Office to decide on a suitable anthem.' The anthem was called Strengthening the Golden Bowl, penned by Yan Fu, and music by Pu Dong, a military training officer with the Imperial Guard.

The empire would need more than an anthem, however, to strengthen and unite the 'golden bowl.' Within two weeks of selecting the anthem, the Qing Empire, and China’s last imperial dynasty collapsed.

In setting a preexisting melody to a text, Yan and Pu adopted the models prescribed by the fashion of their time, but this compositional process went back much further, a practice that has its provenance in Chinese poetry. As early as the southern Song (1127-1279), it is recorded that poems were first chanted then set to a melodic line which became a song.

In May 1921, Sun Yat-sen and the Nationalist Government in Canton issued their own anthem. Three years later, delegates to the First National Party Congress unanimously endorsed another new anthem penned by Sun Yat-sen and composed by Cheng Maojun performed as part as a cadet ceremony at the Huangpu Military School June 16, 1924. The anthem remains the national anthem of the Republic of China, Taiwan.

Popular Posts