The Chinese Playwright Purged after Writing the National Anthem

Despite the Chinese government’s recent histrionic concern for the protection of national symbols, heroes and martyrs, it is worth remembering that Tian Han – the man who wrote the national anthem, who served time in the 1930s for his ties to the Communist Party, and who wrote many of 20th century China’s greatest plays and dramas – was neither sufficiently cultural nor revolutionary enough to survive the opening salvos of the Cultural Revolution.

That story is not part of the official narrative of why the dignity of March of the Volunteers is worth preserving. And the debate over laws and punishments designed to protect it threatens to drown out an equally, if not more important discussion, about why some people are booing the anthem in the first place. In the United States as well, the signal-to-noise ratio over who kneels and who stands during the playing of the national anthem serves as a distraction to the real issues of racial inequality that inspired Colin Kaepernick and others to begin their act of protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.