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Hong Kong Church silent as the people sing

  • 04 November 2019


Hong Kong's protests have been marked by the tread of millions of marching feet; they have also given rise to scores of creative outpourings. Government press releases have been mocked by memes and legislative manoeuvrings have been scorned on Lennon Walls. 

Expressions of protest have not just taken on visual forms, but have been given airings in the soundscape as well. It might be possible for a government not to televise a revolution, but it is harder still to silence voices raised in mass protest. This summer of discontent has been accompanied by much sound, both of fury and of song. Simply, police proclamations have been drowned out by the voice of people singing.

Apart from those in the front lines who have been trying to dodge batons and tear gas, the act of singing is itself a physical expression of the collective desires of Hong Kongers for greater political freedom, and the lyrics are evidence of the people's determined and stubborn solidarity.

Initially, when the mass demonstrations were predominantly peaceful, it was common to hear both the hymn 'Sing Alleluia to the Lord' and the tune from the musical Les Misérables, 'Do You hear the People Sing?' Each of these makes sense within Hong Kong's recent historical and political context. 

The Christian churches have an important influence in the education and health sectors beyond the simple number of Christian believers, although Christians do comprise more than ten per cent of the population. There are also many places of worship, so the physical presence of the churches is very evident, and there are active youth groups. In the early days of the protest too the Catholic Auxiliary Bishop, Joseph Ha Chi-shing, was a prominent marcher, and the former Archbishop, Cardinal Zen, has long been a well-known critic of China.

While 'Do You hear the People Sing?' has become the protest tune of choice the world-over, it was taken up with gusto in Hong Kong in 2014 during the Umbrella Movement, and since. A third song, 'Bring Back the Glory of Hong Kong', has now emerged. Since its first airing in late August it has been sung at football matches, in malls, at school assemblies and for a time was also being performed in Catholic churches.

Thomas, the anonymous principle composer of the anthem, wanted to write a marching song that could be used to stir the emotions of the protestors, as well as counter the despair felt