Party newspaper People’s Daily has condemned an online parody of a historic war song, calling it “blasphemous.”
A commentary published Monday took a firm stand against performances that make fun of the “Yellow River Cantata” — a 1939 composition that tells of the country’s struggles during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The “Yellow River Cantata” is one of China’s most well-known patriotic choral works, and is often taught to schoolchildren. But its familiar melody has also become the basis of several parodies.
The People’s Daily commentary specifically mentions a three-minute online video produced by a media company in southwestern China’s Sichuan province that features a choir of employees wearing panda hats. Titled “Year-End Bonus,” the video replaces the mournful original lyrics — “The wind is roaring/ The horse is screaming/ The Yellow River is crying” — with a comic riff on the annual bonus that employees expect before Chinese New Year.
“Year-end bonus, year-end bonus/ We are shouting, we are shouting/ The staff are in high spirits/ The boss has even pawned his underwear,” the choir sings over the stately melody. Though the video was first posted last year, it has become popular again as Chinese companies prepare for their end-of-year celebrations.
“Lampooning the classics and mocking history not only oversteps the boundaries of entertainment, but also debases the sanctity of the arts,” the commentary reads.
The author also criticized other spoofs, including an exaggerated slapstick rendition of the cantata on a 2014 television talent show. The performance had earned praise from one of the show’s judges, well-known TV host Liu Yiwei. “Patriotism takes many forms,” Liu said on the show. “All that matters is that you love your country in your heart.”
The “Yellow River Cantata” was composed by Xian Xinghai, with lyrics adapted from a poem by Zhang Guangnian, and the descendants of the two men have also spoken out against the parodies. Xian’s daughter, Xian Nina, told China National Radio that she was so angry she couldn’t sleep. “I strongly oppose these performances. My father composed this work with blood and tears,” she said. Zhang’s son, Zhang Andong, told the broadcaster that such parodies could not be forgiven.
Satirists in China can even fall foul of the law for disrespecting historic figures or events. In 2016, a Beijing court ordered an internet celebrity and an herbal tea manufacturer to apologize publicly for social media posts that defamed Qiu Shaoyun, a 1950s war hero. And last October, a law protecting the national anthem came into effect, under which anyone who mocks the anthem can face up to 15 days’ detention.
While most netizens sided with the People’s Daily commentary opposing the parodies, some argued that the spoofs were not as disastrous as TV dramas about the war, which sometimes feature ridiculous scenes, such as a Chinese soldier tearing a Japanese villain apart with his bare hands. In 2015, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television issued a notice cautioning against such dramatizations.
The War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression is a crucial part of China’s nation-building narrative — and as such, how the period is represented can be a contentious topic. Last year, the Ministry of Education even added six years to the length of the war in official histories.
“Those who don’t know the history [that took place] before their births will always be children,” Monday’s commentary concludes. “Respecting history and classics means respecting ourselves and the future.”
Editor: Qian Jinghua.
(Header image: Visitors pose for photos in front of paintings themed around the Sino-Japanese War at a museum in Beijing, Aug. 22, 2015. Da Meng/VCG)