Hong Kong’s “Anthemgate” sends officials into a tizzy



HONG KONG — “Please stand for the national anthem of Hong Kong!” the announcer said at the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship in Dubai this month. An official-sounding song began, with trumpets blaring and a chorus singing.

Susanna Lin, the gold medal winner in the under 47kg Masters 2 category, made the “T” for timeout sign with her hands — something the Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee had advised athletes to do. The music ground to a halt.

There is, in fact, no “national anthem of Hong Kong.” And while the former British colony competes under its own flag at athletic events, it was transferred to Chinese rule in 1997 and uses the Chinese national anthem, “March of the Volunteers.”

This fact has been lost on befuddled audio techs at overseas sports events, who have instead been playing “Glory to Hong Kong,” a song that became popular during mass pro-democracy protests in 2019. Millions marched in peaceful protests against an extradition bill that year, but increased violence amid a heavy-handed police response, and the protesters’ shifting goals, saw Beijing in 2020 impose a national security law that has been used to crack down on freedoms of protest, speech and academic research.

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In at least four instances in the past few months, either the wrong song or the wrong song title was used to represent Hong Kong athletes. The seemingly accidental revival of the song at sports events abroad has driven Hong Kong authorities into a tizzy.

“Anthemgate” started on Nov. 13 at a Rugby Sevens match in Incheon, South Korea, when an instrumental version of “Glory to Hong Kong” played in full. (Athletes had not yet been instructed to use the “T” signal.)

Hong Kong leader John Lee told journalists that “the song that was played was closely connected to the 2019 violence and disturbances.”

The authorities sprang into action. A police investigation was called. Hong Kong’s chief secretary summoned the South Korean consul in Hong Kong to communicate that the government “strongly deplores and opposes the incident” and to request an inquiry. Yet another Hong Kong official appealed to Google to minimize the song in its search terms, the South China Morning Post reported.

“Police are taking this matter very seriously and are conducting [a] thorough investigation,” the Hong Kong police force told The Washington Post.

The police confirmed that the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau would be gathering evidence on whether the incidents breached the National Anthem Ordinance or other legislation. Hong Kong claims that its national security law is applicable worldwide.

Hong Kong sports officials have rejected the apologies of Asia Rugby and the Asian Powerlifting Federation, two of the organizations in charge of the events where the wrong song was played. In both instances, the mistakes seem to have been made by junior staff or volunteers with no link to Hong Kong, who simply found the file by searching “Hong Kong anthem” online.

The broadcasts of two other Hong Kong rugby matches this year — one in Australia in July, and another in Dubai in November — used the correct file for the Chinese national anthem but mislabeled it in the text as “Glory to Hong Kong.”

Back in Dubai last week, the athletes and officials stood for a minute of silence after the erroneous file was pulled. Finally, a few bars of the Chinese national anthem played tentatively, stopped and restarted.

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