Chinese censors ban protest anthem lauding decades of dissent

The song links the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement with last year's 'white paper' protests, naming dissidents.
By Xiao An for RFA Mandarin
2023.12.07
The protest anthem "It's my Duty" lauds activists, protesters and dissidents who have pushed for freedom, justice and democracy.
(Animated gif from It’s My Duty)

Chinese censors have blocked access to a Mandarin protest anthem lauding political activists, protesters and dissidents who have pushed for freedom, justice and democracy over the past three decades, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and during last years "white paper" protests, according to the singer-songwriter who published it from London.

Titled "It's my Duty" in a reference to a young man's reply when asked by a journalist why he was cycling off to Tiananmen Square in 1989, the song's lyrics read like a list of "forbidden words" used by censors to limit access to the darker parts of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's recent history to those behind the Great Firewall.

"We are the orphans in the square. We are the new shoots after the wildfire," run the lyrics to the song, penned and performed by film music student Yinfi on YouTube.

"We sank to the bottom of the Yangtze River. We were buried under the Harmony train," Yinfi sings, referencing recent transportation disasters.

"We destabilized the fire in Urumqi," the song runs, referencing a fatal lockdown fire that inspired mass protests, known as the "white paper" or "A4" revolution, across the country in November 2022.

"We are the low-end population wandering in an age of prosperity," it says, in an ironic reference to mass evictions of "low-end" migrant workers from Beijing.

"We are the foreign forces shouting in a dark room," it says, in a sarcastic nod to the ruling Chinese Communist Party's claims that political opposition and dissent in the country are fueled and instigated by "hostile foreign forces."

"We are Hong Kong people who have lost our home," Yinfi sings. "We are the Uyghurs who have lost our freedom."

Remembering names

Yinfi said in a statement in the song's YouTube description that he was deeply moved by a speech delivered by a Chinese student at Columbia University in New York in the wake of the “white paper” protests.”

"This song I've created is inspired by the poignant words from that speech,” he said. "My aspiration is that through this song, the names that have been expunged may be resurrected in memory."

Yinfi said he wanted to help win recognition "far and wide" for China's "champions of freedom."

In a recent interview with RFA Mandarin, Yinfi said the song has been widely circulated outside of China since he released it on June 23.

"The phrase 'it's my duty' seems to be representative of the spirit of young people today, and may represent ordinary people ... [and the desire to] actively participate in social movements," he said, adding that he has taken part in protests in the U.K.

He said the names of jailed Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti, late jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and late rights activist Cao Shunli, along with dozens of other high-profile dissidents and activists should continue to be spoken and remembered.

ENG_CHN_ProtestAnthem_12072023.2.jpg
People protest with blank sheets of paper on a street in Shanghai, Nov. 27, 2022. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

"In an environment like China, it feels as if a lot of people, including myself, live in a parallel reality, with a kind of invisible wall ... that kept us unaware that these people even existed," Yinfi said.

"They may have spoken out for democracy, freedom and human rights in the most moderate way ... yet eventually they are suppressed very severely," he said. "I think we need to know their stories."

"Putting them into the lyrics had a very powerful impact for me."

‘We are Jimmy Lai’

He said the song lasted around NetEase Cloud Music for around a week before being deleted, largely because no lyrics were posted, but never made it onto any other Chinese music platform in the first place.

"It was never going to be possible [to publish] this song [in China]," Yinfi said. "Names like Liu Xiaobo and political prisoners in Hong Kong can't be circulated in China."

The song includes the lyric "We are Jimmy Lai, we are Joshua Wong, we are Gwyneth Ho, we are Chow Hang-tung," in a reference to the ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy media and activists in the city since the 2019 protest movement.

It goes on to name-check whistleblowing doctors Gao Yaojie, Jiang Yanyong and Li Wenliang, while ending with the pen name Peng Zaizhou used by Peng Lifa, who hung banners from Beijing's Sitong Bridge calling for Xi Jinping's resignation ahead of the 20th party congress in October 2022.

"We are the deleted voices," Yinfi sings. "Today we keep the glimmer of freedom alive."

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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