The story of Hong Kong’s newest protest anthem

Thanks to the internet, new protest song 'Glory to Hong Kong' has spread far and wide in a single month.

As China celebrates 70 years of Communist party rule with a huge military parade today, the ongoing protests in Hong Kong are intensifying even further. According to journalists on the ground, tens of thousands of people have defied bans against protesting and taken to the streets. Dressed in black, demonstrators scattered paper money – which is traditionally used in funeral rites – onto the streets. As well as reports of police using water cannons and tear gas to try and disperse protesters, the BBC has now confirmed reports that a 18-year-old has been left in a critical condition after being shot in the chest at close range.

Demonstrations began back in March because people in Hong Kong opposed the introduction of a new extradition bill. Widespread protests began in June, and continue to the present. The bill would’ve allowed the authorities to arrest fugitives and extradite them to other territories where they’re wanted for a crime. At the moment, Hong Kong doesn’t have any extradition agreement with mainland China or Taiwan. People were concerned that Hong Kong residents and visitors might become subject to laws in mainland China under such a bill – a move which would undermine Hong Kong’s status as an autonomous region. Hong Kong, formerly a colony of the United Kingdom, was returned to China in 1997, but retains its own economic and governmental system, under the ‘One country, two systems’ principle.

Though the extradition bill was eventually withdrawn on September 4, Carrie Lam (Chief Executive of Hong Kong) has not agreed to any of the protester’s other demands so far. As well as calling for universal suffrage (the right to vote for all citizens) they’re calling for an independent enquiry on police brutality, and want all arrested protesters to be released from custody. They’re also demanding that officials retract their characterisation of the protest as ‘riots’, and are calling for Lam’s resignation. The protests have also shifted into a wider pushback against the erosion of Hong Kong’s independent rights.  

Soundtracking many of these more recent protests is a new anthem called ‘Glory to Hong Kong’. Written by a local musician in his mid-20s – who has given his name only as Thomas – the song began spreading in August on LIHKG (a Hong Kong forum similar to Reddit). Speaking to BBC News China, Thomas said that he hopes the song will “unite Hong Kongers and boost public morale”.

Music has previously featured in other Hong Kong protests. During the “Umbrella Movement”  protests of 2014, demonstrators sang ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ (from Les Miserables), the Canto-pop song ‘Raise the Umbrellas’ (penned for the movement by Lo Hiu-pan) and the ’70s Christian hymn ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord’. Though these particular songs have cropped up again five years on, ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ is growing in momentum. Earlier in September, thousands of people gathered in various shopping malls around Hong Kong and sang it in unison. And at a World Cup qualifier match against Iran, members of the crowd booed and attempted to drown out the Chinese National Anthem by singing ‘Glory to Hong Kong’.

The song, a new composition in Cantonese, was first posted on LIHKG on August 29, by a user using the pseudonym Thomas dgx yhl. As TIME reports, various other forum users offered their own lyric suggestions after a first draft was shared, and a producer known only as K mixed the track after answering Thomas’ online call for extra volunteers. Since the song appeared on YouTube for the first time at the end of August, it has inspired other videos: from English and Japanese translations, to this orchestral chorus version. The original YouTube upload has now been watched around 2.5 million times. 

Five years on from the Umbrella Movement – a series of sit-in protests – Hong Kongers still have many of the same concerns and fears. Clashes between protesters and police are becoming ever-more violent, as we’ve seen today with the use of live ammunition – and accordingly ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ is solemn and defiant. “The dawn has come. Let us revive our Hong Kong,” urges one English translation. “Revolution of our time!” 

Pro-democracy protesters sing songs and chant slogans during a rally inside a shopping mall in Shatin on September 22, 2019

Pro-democracy protesters sing songs and chant slogans during a rally inside a shopping mall in Shatin on September 22, 2019

As protest songs go,  this is a thoroughly modern one. Created collaboratively online, just a few months ago, ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ has spread rapidly thanks to social media, and is known all around the territory. ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ is now so widespread that some protesters call it their own national anthem. As composer Thomas put it, speaking to Time: “The message to listeners is that despite the unhappiness and uncertainty of our time, Hong Kong people will not surrender.”