Parody of patriotic songs not music to the ears
Published: Feb 01, 2018 10:15 PM

Illustrations: Peter C. Espina/GT

I don't often listen to patriotic songs. But when I heard the "Yellow River Cantata," performed by a choir on the bank of the Yellow River accompanied on the piano by popular concert pianist Lang Lang on TV, I was touched and tears welled up in my eyes. The song, originally composed in Yan'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, in 1939 during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), embodied the strong determination of the Chinese people to defend their country and inspired the whole nation to stand up against Japanese aggression. 

I heard the song once again recently in a viral video, which upset me and made me uncomfortable. The video showed a choir of employees from a company wearing panda hats while performing the song in a dramatic manner, animatedly shaking their heads and limbs. The mournful original lyrics "The wind is roaring, the horses are roaring, the Yellow River is howling" were replaced by "Annual bonus, annual bonus, we are howling for it!"

The performance was reportedly made at a company's annual meeting. It's common for employees to express their desire for a generous annual bonus in an entertaining way at their company's annual meetings. But a spoof of the classic song apparently oversteps the boundaries of entertainment. It can hardly make people laugh.

Humorous, satirical and fantastical videos have been gaining popularity in China in recent years, especially among the young Chinese. Spoofing is considered by some as a way to deconstruct serious themes to entertain people with comical effects.

In 2015, spoofs of English accent of Lei Jun, CEO of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, went viral online. That "Are you OK?," which Lei said to cheer up Indian audiences in New Delhi when launching his company's first product for the international market, has turned into an overnight meme on Chinese social media, sparking serious discussion about hurdles Chinese executives face in the English-speaking global marketplace.

Spoofing can entertain people. But noticeably, not everything can be a target of spoof. Classic works dealing with history in particular should not be touched. The melody and lyrics of the "Yellow River Cantata" embody an epic tale of the whole nation firmly fighting Japanese invasion. Just as Xian Nina, the composer's daughter said, ridiculing such a masterpiece is a betrayal of history.

The soul of the nation is embodied in historical works and by historical figures. They deserve our respect. Entertainment has boundaries. To cross the line and touch upon these topics is to blaspheme against history and will even face punishment.

In 2016, a Beijing court ordered an online celebrity who wrote a post on Weibo mocking the story of Qiu Shaoyun, a war hero in the 1950s, to issue public apologies for five consecutive days. And a law that protects the national anthem from being mocked came into effect last October.

Spoofing can bring people laughter and happiness. But spoofs of classic historical works and figures should be firmly opposed. Happiness gained from such spoofs is not real happiness, but disrespect for history and ourselves. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

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