The PRC censors its own national anthem

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The people are outraged at what happened to a doctor named Li Wenliang at Wuhan Central Hospital who called attention to the outbreak of the coronavirus on December 30, 2019, before it became an epidemic.  Instead of the government praising him, they sent police to threaten and harass him, as part of their effort to cover up the burgeoning contagion.  While treating patients, he contracted the disease himself and succumbed to it on February 7, 2020.  To add insult to death, the government first denied that he had died, then admitted it and began a propaganda campaign to promote him as a hero.

To my knowledge, this is the first time since the brutal crushing of the Tiananmen demonstrations of May and early June, 1989 that masses of Chinese citizens have openly denounced the government.  Of course, the censors are working full time to contain the uproar, but the more the censors clamp down, the more firmly resolved are the people to protest against the unjust treatment of the good doctor, not to mention a host of other mishandlings of various aspects of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).  In terms of open opposition to the Chinese Communist Party, what is happening now is absolutely unprecedented in the history of the PRC.

It has gotten so bad that, when netizens invoked the first line of the national anthem that says "Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!" (起来(Qǐlái!)不愿(Búyuàn)(zuò)奴隶(núlì)(de)人们(rénmen!)!), the censors blocked it.  Here's an unwire post that includes a screen shot of the notification from social networking site Douban that it is not permitted to quote that line of the national anthem, and here is a Twitter thread with extensive commentary on this ridiculous censorial imbroglio.

Comments by mainland Chinese students:


In speaking of the case on Douban, I think it was censored because of the ongoing indignant discussion about the government's misconduct and censorship concerning the spread of the novel coronavirus, and because of people's prevalent fight for freedom of speech and the protest against the absence of social justice. In that screen shot, there is a comment posted by "Dòngwù zhuāngyuán 动物庄园", who commented that his/her ID “Dòngwù zhuāngyuán 动物庄园” has also been censored, and it was jokingly replied that "your ID is sinful" ("Zhège ID kěwèi shì yǒu yuánzuì le 这个ID可谓是有原罪了") since "Dòngwù zhuāngyuán 动物庄园" is the Chinese translation of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Supposedly, they might be talking about dictatorship and rebellion allegorically. In a word, I think the national anthem is being censored by Douban and other social media in certain circumstances given the present social climate and the coronavirus events as triggers.


On the day when the doctor Li Wenliang died, many Chinese people retweeted a song called "do you hear the people sing" (from Les Miserables, 2012) on Weibo and Douban. I can't find the original post, since it has been deleted, but I'm attaching the video here. [VHM:  Gives you a good idea of what the people are thinking.]

Later people found that the first sentence of our national anthem "起来(Qǐlái!)不愿(Búyuàn)(zuò)奴隶(núlì)(de)人们(rénmen!)!" expressed a similar meaning, so many of them then began to post this sentence on their social network sites (commenting about the recent events, and adding this sentence at the beginning or the end). Before long, this sentence was censored.

Incendiary sentiments!


Selected readings

[Thanks to Mark Metcalf, Yijie Zhang, and Chenfeng Wang]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    February 10, 2020 @ 2:11 am

    A friend in China saw this on WeChat:


    The drama of Dr. Li Wenliang

    Yī chǎng bēijù, xiānshi bèi wǔ chéng yǎjù, ránhòu biàn chéng xǐjù, jiēzhe yǎnchū chéngwéi nàojù, jiéjú biàn wèi cǎnjù — dàn zhèxiē dōu bù fáng'ài tāmen yǒu běnshì zuìzhōng bǎ tā gǎibiān wèi gémìng yàngbǎn jù.


    A tragedy was first covered up as a mime, after that it turned into a comedy, then the performance became a farce, and the ending became a tragedy — but these did not prevent them from having the ability to eventually adapt it to a revolutionary model drama.

  2. Rose Eneri said,

    February 10, 2020 @ 11:24 am

    "Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!"

    I'm curious why the English translation uses "ye" instead of "you." Can I assume the original anthem uses an archaic term as well?

  3. Luke said,

    February 10, 2020 @ 1:20 pm

    @Rose Eneri
    The first line of the original lyrics doesn't use second-person pronouns at all.
    I'm also curious as to why they chose the word "ye" because I was under the impression that the use of "we" was implied in the original lyrics, especially considering the next line contains "我們".

  4. John Swindle said,

    February 10, 2020 @ 4:29 pm

    In English it echoes the opening line of The Internationale: "Arise, ye prisoners of starvation" (American)/ "Arise, ye workers from your slumber" (British). The French original of that one doesn't use a second-person pronoun either, and nor, for that matter, does its Chinese version.

  5. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    February 10, 2020 @ 7:00 pm

    Possibly because 'you who' is thought to sound silly? It's alleged that there was once a translation of the Roman Missal in which a lot of prayers began 'Almighty God, you who….', and it beccame known as the Yoohoo Missal.

  6. Alyssa said,

    February 10, 2020 @ 7:19 pm

    This doesn't really answer the question of why, but most of the (American) patriotic songs I know use thee/thou rather than "you", so it does seem fitting for the translation of a national anthem to use "ye."

  7. Michael Watts said,

    February 11, 2020 @ 5:20 am

    It seems slightly closer to the original to translate it as "arise, all who refuse to be slaves". (While still sounding formal enough.)

    Literally it's "arise, people who are unwilling to be slaves", but that's kind of an awkward English phrasing.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    February 11, 2020 @ 6:29 pm

    From a Chinese graduate student:

    I also see that sentences from the constitution or Quotations of Mao Zedong's sayings are censored. The censorship may not come from the government, but probably come from the Douban website because they are afraid of being closed. The largest group on Douban, called "Dòubàn é zǔ 豆瓣鹅组" ("Douban Gossip Group [lit., Douban Goose Group]"), was closed for a month before June 4th last year, although the group is famous for being patriotic.

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