The East Is Red (song)
"The East Is Red" (simplified Chinese: 东方红; traditional Chinese: 東方紅; pinyin: Dōngfāng Hóng) is a Chinese revolutionary song that was the de facto national anthem of the People's Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. The lyrics of the song were attributed to Li Youyuan (李有源), a farmer from northern Shaanxi, and the melody was derived from a local folk song. He allegedly got his inspiration upon seeing the rising sun in the morning of a sunny day.
|Simplified Chinese||Traditional Chinese||Pinyin||English translation|
Dōngfāng hóng, tàiyáng shēng,
The lyrics to "The East Is Red" were adapted from an old Shaanxi folk song about love. The lyrics were often changed depending on the singer. The modern lyrics were produced in 1942, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, attributed to a farmer from northern Shaanxi, Li Youyuan. It is possible there was an earlier version which referred to Liu Zhidan, a local communist hero, who was killed in Shanxi in 1936. Later, Mao's name replaced Liu's in the lyrics. The song was popular in the Communist base-area of Yan'an, but became less popular after the Chinese Communist Party won the Chinese Civil War and established the People's Republic of China in 1949, possibly because some senior Party leaders disagreed with the song's portrayal of Mao Zedong as "China's savior".
The lyrics of "The East Is Red" idealize Mao Zedong, and Mao's popularization of "The East Is Red" was one of his earliest efforts to promote his image as a perfect hero in Chinese popular culture after the Korean War. In 1956, a political commissar suggested to China's defense minister, Peng Dehuai, that the song be taught to Chinese troops, but Peng opposed Mao's propaganda, saying "That is a personality cult! That is idealism!" Peng's opposition to "The East Is Red", and to Mao's incipient personality cult in general, contributed to Mao purging Peng in 1959. After Peng was purged, Mao accelerated his efforts to build his personality cult, and by 1966 succeeded in having "The East Is Red" sung in place of China's national anthem in an unofficial capacity.
In 1964 Zhou Enlai used "The East Is Red" as the central chorus for a play he created to promote the personality cult of Mao Zedong, with "March Forward under the Banner of Mao Zedong Thought" as the original title. Zhou also served as co-producer, head writer and director of the play. The central theme of the play was that Mao was the only person capable of leading the Chinese Communist Party to victory. The play was performed by 2,000 artists, and was accompanied by a 1,000-strong chorus and orchestra. It was staged repeatedly in Beijing at the Great Hall of the People in order to ensure that all residents would be able to see it - this was in time for the 15th National Day of the People's Republic of China, and was later adapted to film that was shown all over China - both by then under the title "The East Is Red". It was in this play that the definite version of the song was heard for the first time, this would be the version used during events during the Cultural Revolution years until 1969.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) Tian Han, the author of the China's official national anthem, "The March of the Volunteers", was purged, so his song was rarely used. "The East Is Red" was used as China's unofficial national anthem during this time. The song was played through PA systems in towns and villages across China at dawn and at dusk. The Shanghai Customs House on the Bund still plays the song in place of the Westminster Chimes originally played by the British, and the Central People's Broadcasting Station began every day by playing the song on a set of bronze bells that had been cast over 2,000 years earlier, during the Warring States period. Radio and television broadcasts nationwide usually began with the song "The East Is Red" in the morning or at early evening, and ended with the song "The Internationale".
However, some careful listeners found out that the lyrics of these two songs made a paradox: "The East is Red" praises Mao as a "people's great savior", while "The Internationale" declares that "there are no supreme saviors".
Students were obliged to sing the song in unison every morning at the very beginning of the first class of the day. In 1969 the tune was used in the Yellow River Piano Concerto. The Concerto was produced by Jiang Qing and adapted from the Yellow River Cantata by Xian Xinghai. When she adapted the Cantata, Jiang added the tune to "The East Is Red" in order to connect the Concerto with the themes of the Cultural Revolution. After China launched its first satellite, in 1970, "The East Is Red" was the first signal the craft sent back to Earth. But its place as the unofficial national anthem was finished that same year, for in commemoration of the 21st anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, The March of the Volunteers began to be played, albeit only in its instrumental version, once again in all national events.
Because of its associations with the Cultural Revolution, the song was rarely heard after the rise of Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. Today in China the song is considered by some to be a somewhat unseemly reminder of the cult of personality associated with Mao. Its official use has largely been replaced by the "March of the Volunteers", whose lyrics mention neither the Communist Party nor Mao. "The East Is Red" is still commonly heard in recordings played by electronic cigarette lighters bearing Mao's face that are popular with tourists.
The tune of "The East Is Red" remains popular in Chinese popular culture. In 2009 it was voted as the most popular patriotic song in a Chinese government-run internet poll. It was being used as the belling melody for striking clocks like Beijing railway station and the Beijing Telegraph Building, Custom House, Shanghai as well as the Drum Tower in Xi'an.
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