HONG KONG – A defiant anthem penned by an anonymous composer has become the new soundtrack to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests.
“Glory to Hong Kong” first appeared on YouTube on Aug. 31 and has quickly won a huge following among those pushing for greater democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
In less than a fortnight the original version has racked up more than 1.3 million views. Multiple copycats videos have been made — including one featuring an entire orchestra decked out in the helmets, goggles and gas masks worn by those on the barricades.
Each night this week, protesters have gathered at different malls across the city for impromptu flash-mob concerts. At a mall in the town of Sha Tin on Wednesday night, hundreds of activists gathered to sing, many reading the lyrics from scraps of paper.
“For all our tears on our land/Do you feel the rage in our cries,” the latest song begins. “Rise up and speak up, our voice echoes/Freedom shall shine upon us.”
Alongside the Christian hymn “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” “Glory to Hong Kong” is a riposte to the city’s unelected leaders and Beijing after more than three months of huge and sometimes violent protests.
Little is known about the composer, who gave himself the pseudonym “Thomas dgx yhl.”
During a soccer match on Tuesday night between Hong Kong and Iran, crowds of local fans booed the Chinese national anthem, and then sung the new protest song as the match began.
Insulting China’s flag and anthem is banned on the mainland, and Hong Kong’s government is trying to pass a similar law.
Critics say that move is another blow to the guarantees of free speech that Hong Kong is supposed to maintain under the handover deal China agreed with Britain.
Music has long been central to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement.
A host of protest songs have been sung for years at the June 4 vigils commemorating the Tiananmen crackdown.
During 2014’s pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” protests, the three most popular protest songs were “Do You Hear the People Sing” from the musical “Les Miserables,” “Raise the Umbrellas” — a track written for the movement by a group of Cantonese pop stars — and “Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies,” a ballad by the Hong Kong rock band Beyond from the early 1990s.
Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer who has written a book on the city’s protest movements, said songs sung in 2014 were characterized by optimism that things might change.
But in the five years since — with no concessions from Beijing and protesters embracing more confrontational tactics — the music has darkened to match the mood on the streets.
“The soundtrack of the movement is much more somber,” he said — “the funereal ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,’ the ‘death rattle’ of protesters beating their shields and road signs, and now this solemn, defiant anthem.”