19 October 2008
My last post was about what I believed to be the first English version of a Mandarin hit song. Today we had tea with a group of Hong Kong music fans and, thanks to Louis Lee, I now know better. In 1941, Paul Robeson made a three-disc album with the title Chee Lai! Songs Of New China. This included the song Chi Lai! (Arise!) sung first in Mandarin and then in English. Here is the English lyric.
Arise! You who refuse to be bond slaves!
Let's stand up and fight for liberty and true democracy!
All the world is facing the change of oppression!
Everyone who fights for freedom is now crying:
Arise! Arise! Arise!
All of us with one heart, with the torch of freedom, March On!
With the torch of freedom, March On! March On! March On and On!
The song may be better known as The March Of The Volunteers - tune by Nie Er and lyrics by Tian Han - written in Shanghai in 1934 and used as the theme song for the patriotic movie Sons And Daughters In A Time Of Storm. It is even better known as the national anthem of the People's Republic of China.
From what I have been able to find out, the recording came about when Liu Liangmo, director of the Shanghai YMCA, came to the USA and looked up Robeson as a likely candidate to sing some Chinese resistance songs. The album they produced had two songs by Robeson (the other being Song Of The Guerillas) and four by a Chinese chorus conducted by Liu. According to a Time review, although the songs were "not tuneful to Western ears", they were "interesting and authentic examples of China's new mass music". The album also included a booklet with an introduction by Soong Ching-ling, widow of Sun Yat-sen.
Here's an MP3 of Chee Lai! (Arise!) at the Internet Archive.