Wed, May 17, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Give us an anthem we can relate to

Last Saturday, at the opening ceremony of the President's Cup sports meet for central government civil servants, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) encouraged people to sing the national anthem, because, he felt, failure to do so is bad for national pride. His appeal met with a lukewarm reception, as the pan-blues felt that he did not mean what he said, and the pan-greens felt that Chen was displaying yet another example of his inconsistency.

Unlike other nations, singing the national anthem in Taiwan often gives rise to embarrassment, for the lyrics are an adaptation of a speech originally given by Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) at the opening ceremony of the Whampoa Military Academy, China's first modern military training institute. Before it became the anthem of the Republic of China, it was the anthem of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and was only adopted as the national anthem in 1937 by the KMT's standing committee, a turn of events that embodied the KMT's party-state rule.

As a declaration of loyalty to the party-state, the anthem was sung at all public functions. Even before the founding of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), there had already been a strong movement rejecting it. Before the abolition of martial law in 1987, then Ilan County commissioner and later minister of justice Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) abolished the requirement that the anthem be sung at cinemas, a move that infuriated the central government. With such a history, it is no surprise that many people either refuse to sing the anthem, or only mutter it under their breath.

The current national anthem also rubs China up the wrong way. Taiwanese pop diva A-Mei (張惠妹) suffered a ban on performing in China after she sang the national anthem at Chen's presidential inauguration in 2000. The ban wasn't lifted until June 2001. This intimidated Taiwanese entertainers, who have been keen to avoid A-Mei's fate. And last month, during Chinese President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) visit to the US, when an announcer mistakenly referred to China's national anthem as the anthem of the ROC, it nearly triggered a diplomatic incident.

The fact that the anthem's lyrics are associated with the KMT is not really a serious issue. Most national anthems date back many years and they do not always reflect contemporary reality. But if there is a common attachment to the song, it does not undermine a nation's sense of identity. Americans sing The Star-Spangled Banner, the French the Marseillaise and the Japanese the Kimigayo, and these anthems do not interfere with their sense of identity, or their loyalty to the national anthem and the national flag. But Taiwan's national anthem is a reflection of the divisions in Taiwan's sense of identity, and it is pulling the nation apart rather than conferring any solidarity.

If the public cannot identify with the national anthem and it is divisive, then it is a failure. No wonder US President George W. Bush did not support a Spanish version of The Star-Spangled Banner. In an era of party politics, using the KMT's party anthem as the national anthem is inappropriate. Changing the lyrics should be an easier process -- unlike the national flag, the Constitution does not prevent changes to the lyrics of the national anthem.

Thus, as long as agreement can be reached between the ruling and opposition parties, the Cabinet can issue an order to revise the lyrics or even replace the current anthem with a new one. If this change can be given final approval by the public through a referendum, the new national anthem will win greater legitimacy and wider acceptance.

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