More than ever before, Hong Kong soccer fans were in no mood to hear the Chinese national anthem.
Thousands of people in Hong Kong Stadium on Tuesday turned their backs on the field as the Chinese anthem played before a World Cup qualifying match against Iran, drowning out the song with boos. Many Hong Kongers have never felt pride hearing the song — the semiautonomous territory does not have its own anthem — and they certainly do not now, as mass pro-democracy protests continue into a fourth month.
But in the stadium’s stands and concourses Tuesday, hordes of fans repeatedly sang a song created less than three weeks before, which some protesters have billed as their equivalent of a national anthem. And over the next two days, more than a dozen singalongs took place at shopping malls across the city, some attracting thousands of people.
Written and composed anonymously, then modified in online forums popular with protesters, “Glory to Hong Kong” features the kind of brass-heavy backing and soaring lyricism common to anthems, including the line “May people reign, proud and free, now and ever more.” In a slickly produced video version, an orchestra and choir dressed in protester garb — black shirts, helmets and gas masks — perform through a fog machine, meant to evoke images of tear gas.
Some protesters have said the Cantonese-language song makes them feel the way people abroad feel when they hear their own anthems: a sense of collective pride in their home. Many young protesters have felt contempt for China based on what they see as Beijing’s steadily tightening grip since it resumed control of the territory from Britain in 1997.
“The song seems encouraging to Hong Kong,” said Milton Wong, 31, a music promoter who has participated in nonviolent protests. “And I hope people will take action with that courage.”
The song’s creation mirrors the broader movement: largely crowdsourced but reliant on the expertise of professionals in many fields.
A composer named Thomas, who has not shared his last name, first posted an instrumental version and lyrics Aug. 26 to LIHKG, a forum used by protesters, and asked others to record themselves singing it. He collected audio versions via Google Drive and assembled them together to make it sound as if a choir were singing. He adjusted the lyrics based on suggestions in the forum.
The song was then uploaded on YouTube on Aug. 31 with English subtitles and rousing scenes from demonstrations, such as crowds parting for an ambulance, a child leading chants and a banner hung on a mountain. The composer recruited video editors and musicians to create new versions.
Singing has been part of the demonstrations since they began: The “Les Misérables” hit “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and renditions of “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” a 1974 hymn by American composer Linda Stassen, have been the most popular.
And it’s not the first music to rise out of Hong Kong’s protests. Protesters have long belted “Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies,” a Cantonese-language rock song by the band Beyond, in pro-democracy rallies. In 2014, “Raise the Umbrella,” a collaboration of several Cantopop stars, became the unofficial anthem of the Umbrella Movement, a monthslong pro-democracy demonstration. The song was voted Hong Kong’s favorite of that year.
Lo Hiu Pan, who composed “Raise the Umbrella,” said Thursday that while his song benefited from the work with celebrity singers, a new song did not have to be a poppy ballad fit for the mainstream to become popular in Hong Kong. Just speaking to the political experience of the moment is enough to catch fire and connect people, he said, adding that he thought “Glory to Hong Kong” was “powerful.”
“Sometimes a photo, comic or a song can spread out the message even more usefully than a long article,” he said.
Ng Kwok Lun, a 30-year-old videographer, was one of hundreds of people to sing the song Tuesday at Tuen Mun Town Center, a shopping mall. He said he felt “a great sense of belonging” that he had never felt while listening to China’s anthem, “March of the Volunteers.” (A survey of residents in June by the University of Hong Kong found that 76% of respondents identified themselves as Hong Kongers, while just 23% identified as Chinese.)
“I don’t think the stories inside the lyrics mean anything to me,” he said of the Chinese anthem. “But when I listen to the song of Hong Kong, I understand every word in the lyrics. It recalls everything we have done for the past few months, how we get here.”