The easiest way to get locked up in China!

China will soon become the latest country to ban mocking of its national anthem. Well, that’s not entirely true. You will still be free to change the lyrics to make a satirical point, and you’ll also still be free to boo it – you’ll just have to deal with 15 days in prison afterwards!

The country’s politicians are discussing draft legislation to control performances of March of the Volunteers, which includes banning it at funerals. Two years ago, they banned it from weddings. Who on earth would want to play their national anthem at their funeral?

Apparently one lawmaker even wants to ban people putting their hand on their heart when the anthem’s played, as it looks too American.

Is this just a silly news story for everyone to laugh at for a couple of days, then quickly forget? Unfortunately not, as it will have an immediate impact, especially in Hong Kong where football fans have regularly booed the anthem at international matches. Would they dare do that now if they face 15 days in prison?

Changing anthem lyrics is also one of the easiest ways to make a political point – read my book, and you’ll find examples of it done everywhere from South Africa to Uruguay – and I guess that outlet will now disappear in the country. Sometimes a silly news story is actually a lot more important.

March of the Volunteers is, though, still a cracking anthem:

Being a beauty queen’s more dangerous than you thought


Back in 2014,  Merve Buyuksarac, Ms Turkey 2006, posted a satirical rewording of her country’s national anthem to her Instagram account. She changed a handful of its words to reference a corruption scandal involving the country’s president, Tayyip Erdoğan.

I am like a wild flood, I smash over the law and beyond
I follow state bids, take my bribe and live.

Almost immediately afterwards she was arrested.

This May – two years later! – she was found guilty of insulting the president and sentenced to 14 months in prison. The sentence was only suspended on the condition that she doesn’t insult Erdoğan again in the next five years.

Yes, I should have written about this back in May when it happened, but I somehow only learned about it yesterday while reading about Erdoğan’s crackdown on journalists in his country. He’s jailed 120 so far.

I’ve never heard of someone being sentenced to prison for satirising an anthem before, which isn’t a surprise as if it was a common occurence they’d be literally hundreds of offenders in jail. Imagine how many people have rewritten the words to God Save the Queen and the Star-Spangled Banner.

Turkey’s anthem, the Independence March, turns up surprisingly regular in the country’s political life. People used it frequently earlier this year during the coup that was trying to remove Erdoğan, seeing it as a way to motivate people to get onto the streets, while it also played a major part in the country’s last presidential election.

But this? This is just a disgrace.

For details of more controversial anthems, see my book.

The year’s greatest football – and musical – protest

Back in June, Hong Kong football fans started booing – and I mean booing – China’s national anthem as a way of protesting that country’s rule of the province.

FIFA, being FIFA, decided to fine the Hong Kong FA for those boos and demanded they never happened again.

So how did Hong Kong fans react last month? By doing this:

Hong Kong fans 'boo' the Chinese national anthem March of the Volunteers before a football/soccer match

Yes, amazing!

FIFA has unsurprisingly launched an investigation.

Recently, I met a student from Hong Kong at one of my book talks who told me that many people there actually consider their ‘national anthem’ to be a cheesy pop song called Below the Lion Rock (rather than China’s March of the Volunteers).

Performed by Cantopop legend Ramon Tam, it’s the theme tune to a 1970s TV show and it has the sort of appalling lyrics you’d expect of the theme tune to a 1970s TV show (“In life we’re sometimes glad / But we’ll also be sad”) so it’s somewhat surprising it’s become a rallying cry, especially for pro-democracy protesters.

But if you don’t believe me, here’s a video of said monstrosity set to a montage of last year’s Hong Kong student protests. I hope someone re-edits it to cut in those kids holding up the “Boo” signs!

Gambia’s ruler: messing with human rights, but not his country’s anthem

President Jammeh of Gambia showing his inked finger after voting

Once you’ve ruled a country for 20 years, you probably decide you can do whatever you like with it.

President Jammeh of the Gambia certainly appears to have reached that point (that’s him above, showing off an inked finger after voting in the last election). Over the past year, he’s apparently overseen a sharp fall in human rights in the country, executing prisoners accused of plotting against him and imprisoning journalists.

He’s also started making bizarre decisions like announcing a four-day week so people can devote more time to prayer.

But even Jammeh knows his limits. A couple of weeks ago, an opposition newspaper reported he was getting rid of the country’s national anthem, ‘For the Gambia, Our Homeland’, because it was written by a British couple.

The country deserves an African tune, he apparently said, before suggesting the ‘22 July Anthem’ – a song written to celebrate the date he took power in a coup.

Now, I could argue that scrapping the anthem would be a sensible decision. It seems odd for any country to have an anthem written by past rulers even if it’s been happily sung for 47 years. The anthem’s based on a traditional Gambian melody, but you’d be hard pressed to hear it.

Unfortunately, unlike many stories about Jammeh, this one doesn’t appear to be true. I’ve spent the best part of a fortnight trying to verify it, but everyone I’ve spoken to in and outside the Gambian government insists a change isn’t on the cards.

Of course that doesn’t mean the decision won’t be announced tomorrow! It certainly seems the sort of move someone would make if they needed to stir nationalist feeling. Watch this space.

As a random bonus, here’s some Gambian pop music. I’ve no idea who either of the tunes are by – they’re from random CDs picked up by a friend in the country’s capital Banjul (check out the high-quality artwork!). But they should give a nice uplifting feel to your day and maybe even bring the sun out.