Skip to main content

On January 9, 2023, the first day of class for the second term, as the campus was bustling with activities, Professor Max Xiaobing Tang, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, was also busy getting ready to deliver a lecture. But he was not going to a classroom. Instead, Professor Tang was getting in front of cameras to video record a guest lecture for UGCP1002 Hong Kong in the Wider Constitutional Order, and the topic of his lecture was “March of the Volunteers: The Birth of the National Anthem”.

Hong Kong in the Wider Constitutional Order is an online course consisting of a general introduction and four separate modules. It is one of the two China-related courses required for all undergraduates admitted in 2022-2023 and thereafter. The course highlights the interlocking relations between law, national security and national development in the context of state capacity building in modern Chinese history, and introduces the fundamental constitutional principles underlying the One-Country-Two-Systems framework, the Basic Law of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong National Security Law.

“It is not a course that asks you to recite a lot of the articles from the Hong Kong Basic Law or the Hong Kong National Security Law. Rather, it is a course that seeks to understand the social and historical forces that gave rise to these laws, why the articles and clauses of the laws take their current form, and the broader significance of these laws,” said Professor Poon Wai Yin Isabella, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of CUHK, in her lecture introducing the course.


Apart from UGCP1002, newly admitted students also need to complete another required course, UGCP1001 Understanding China. Co-taught by renowned scholars such as Professor Alan Chan, the Provost and J.S. Lee Professor of Chinese Culture, and Professor Leung Yuen Sang, Emeritus Professor of the Department of History and former Dean of Faculty of Arts, the course looks at China from the perspectives of cultural and intellectual tradition, historical roots, modernisation and society, economic development, and science and technology.


“I think we can better understand China today by looking back at Chinese history. In doing so we may discover that some historical trends and epochal events from Chinese history are important references, if not the direct driving forces, behind China’s national planning and strategic development processes today,” said Professor Leung in his lecture titled “History as Mirror: Looking at Today’s China from the Past”.


Professor Tang’s lecture for UGCP1002 traces the cultural and historical origins of “March of the Volunteers,” the Chinese national anthem, back to a 1935 feature film, its composer, the development of communal singing in China, as well as its reception in the US.  “This lecture is based on an article I published a few years ago on radio, cinema and the Community Singing Movement in the 1930s,” said Professor Tang. “That article is part of my study of a period in modern Chinese history when continual efforts were made to awaken the nation and mobilize the public. It was an era of constant crises.” Beginning with his 2008 book, Origins of the Chinese Avant-Garde: The Modern Woodcut Movement, Professor Tang has in recent years published a series of articles, in both Chinese and English, on modern poetry, visual arts, cinema, and street theater. They contribute to what he calls a study of “the aural history of modern China.”

Professor Tang is most appreciative of the assistance he received from many colleagues while preparing the lecture. “I knew the YMCA in Hong Kong organized a public concert in June 1936 and they sang ‘March of the Volunteers’ at the event,” said Professor Tang, “but I was not able to find detailed information until now.” Professor Fan Sin Piu, an expert on Hong Kong literature in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, suggested possible sources, and Ms. Hu Wenxi, a postgraduate student in the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies (CRS), followed up and found a contemporary report in The Kung Sheung Daily News. “Many other colleagues offered help too. Dr. Li Tiecheng of CRS helped develop an excellent storyboard for the production of the video. And I am very impressed with the technical expertise of the Information Technology Services Centre (ITSC) and Audio-Visual Division staff. They are very professional and efficient.”


“It was truly exciting to see a connection to CUHK in the new material,” Professor Tang continued. At the Hong Kong concert in June 1936, Ma Jian, then a professor of Chinese at the University of Hong Kong, gave an impassioned speech, urging all Chinese to sing in a unified voice. Ma Jian was the father of Ma Lin, who grew up to be a distinguished biochemist and later served as the second Vice-Chancellor of CUHK from 1978 to 1987. “This was an extraordinary story. Historical research often yields such rewarding discoveries,” said Professor Tang. He is also glad to have taken part in the flag-raising ceremony on the CUHK campus on National Day in October 2022. “It was a very emotional experience for me because I know so much about the song’s history. It was like hearing the song for the first time,” recalled Professor Tang. “I hope my lecture will help students taking UGCP1002 know more about this song and understand why it had such a profound impact not only nationally but also internationally in the 1930s, and so rapidly too.”


“It is our belief that the constitutional foundation that Hong Kong rests on can be more adequately understood in the context of modern Chinese history,” said Professor Lee Hun Tak Thomas, Director of Office of University General Education. “The lecture on the birth of the national anthem will shed light on the influential movements in twentieth-century China, and enhance our appreciation of the intricate links between music and visual arts, and the interwoven lives of artists that form the backdrop of the historical era that gave rise to this powerful song. We are extremely delighted that Professor Tang agreed to give such a meaningful lecture.”


Professor Tang’s lecture is scheduled to be made available to students of UGCP1002 on February 13, 2023.