The public booing of the Chinese national anthem, March of the Volunteers, at sports and other events in Hong Kong has, unsurprisingly, angered Beijing.
It’s extremely offensive to behave disrespectfully when any country’s national anthem is being played, but when it is directed at one’s own, it is virtually treasonous, which is why the central and city governments are inserting a national anthem law into Hong Kong’s statutes.
The notion of a national anthem came late in China’s history. Seeing how other modern nation states played their national anthems at important events, the Qing court’s ambassador to the United Kingdom composed a song in 1883 to be used as China’s, but his proposal was rejected.
Although a couple of unofficial anthems were played at subsequent overseas state events, it was only on October 4, 1911, that the imperial court finally approved China’s first official national anthem.
In place of a formal title, the song was referred to by the first three characters of its lyrics, “Gong Jin Ou”, which meant “cup of solid gold”, the golden cup being an allusion to the empire. The lyrics, written in classical Chinese, were sung to a ceremonial tune played in the palace during the height of the Qing dynasty, from the mid-17th to the late-18th centuries.
Six days after the promulgation of Gong Jin Ou, the Wuchang uprising broke out, setting in motion events that led to the replacement of the millennia-old monarchical system in China with a republic. Given the tumultuous events accompanying its inauguration, Gong Jin Ou was never sung or played in public as a national anthem.