March of the Volunteers, a martial song composed to inspire resistance to Japanese aggression, was picked as China’s national anthem in 1949 partly because of its forceful melody and straightforward lyrics. Composed by Nie Er, Communist historians say that poet Tian Han first wrote the lyrics on tobacco paper before being thrown into a Kuomintang jail in 1935. The song has been modified several times to make its lyrics and melody simpler.
Unfortunately Venezuela’s military band didn’t seem to find it simple enough when Chinese President Xi Jinping touched down in the Latin American country last month. On arrival Xi was greeted by an immaculate honour guard but then had to listen to arguably the worst rendition of March of the Volunteers of all time.
The band’s lead trumpet was particularly at fault. Somewhat farcically he began with minor keys instead of major ones, reducing the song’s forcefulness. When the piece reached the section “The Chinese nation faces its greatest peril” (when the notes should be played with special gusto) the first trumpeter also slowed down significantly, casting the rhythm into disarray.
Xi seemed unmoved, managing to listen to the mangled performance with a straight face. But the rendition was broadcast by CCTV and soon went viral on Chinese social media, provoking much mirth.
“I really admire President Xi for being able to keep his composure. I surely wouldn’t be able to hold my giggles if I were there,” one weibo user wrote.
“The school band of my son can do better. Perhaps it is the first time that such a strict-sounding piece can bring about so much laughter,” smiled another.
The footage also spread through international communities in China. Shanghailist, a portal for expatriates, suggested that the performance was so “ear-rapingly awful it makes Chen Guangbiao’s We Are the World look Grammy-worthy” (see WiC243 for more on Chen’s offering).
Had a Japanese band butchered the anthem, the response might not have been quite so tolerant, but netizens seemed ready to take it easy on their South American ally. That didn’t stop one blogger from quipping: “China should express vehement condemnation of the Venezuelan government,” using a syntax that parodies the foreign ministry’s standard rhetoric at perceived slights from foreigners.
For readers yet to listen to the rendition, here is the link to the YouTube clip:
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