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Paul Robeson and "The March of the Volunteers"
    2008-04-15 14:51:26     CRIENGLISH.com

He could still remember some of his most famous lines.

Robeson sang the songs of the world's people in their own languages. He came to be conversant in 20 languages, and fluent in 12.

As the son of a runaway slave in the United States, Paul Robeson had an inborn sense of responsibility to fight for equality and freedom for the mankind. He often sang for the underprivileged.


The cover of "Chee Lai", a record of Paul Robeson. "Chee Lai" later became the National Anthem of People's Republic of China.


Advocating independence and equality in the world, Paul Robeson had a deep sympathy with the Chinese people, who, at that time, were suffering from the war against the Japanese Aggression and the civil war. Besides raising money for China, he provided aids to this war-torn country in his special way.

"Arise, you who refuse to be bound slaves!"

That was Paul Robeson singing "March of the Volunteers", or "Chee Lai", the Chinese national anthem, in Chinese.

Renowned professor Chen Lin from Beijing Foreign Studies University now works as the Foreign Language Advisor for the Beijing Olympics Committee. He remembered clearly that back in 1939 he first heard Robeson sing the Chinese national anthem.

"He sang it in different places on different occasions not in English, (but) in Chinese. And before that, he had started learning Chinese."

In 1935, the Japanese army occupied the northeast of China and was marching towards North China in an attempt to occupy the whole country. Chinese people were indignant and wanted to unite together to fight against Japanese invasion. It was at that time, "Chee Lai" or "March of the Volunteers" came into being to call on the whole nation to rise up. This exciting and passionate song demonstrates China's national spirit.

Chen Xiuxia is the Vice President of China Society for People's Friendship Studies.

"Personally, I heard him sing in the late 40s when I was studying in Columbia University. That was in New York City, in Madison Square Garden. When he sang this 'Chee Lai', we were very much excited."

Paul Robeson first got to know this song in 1941 when the Secretary of the YMCA, Liu Liangmo came to the United States and showed him the song. He recorded it and started to sing it in Chinese.

"And not only in the United States he sang this song, he sang it abroad when he visited other countries. Some of our people, like Tao Xingzhi, heard it on his way back from Europe in Egypt. He sang it over there. In Moscow in the commemoration of Pushkin's 150th anniversary, he sang it too."

Robeson promoted this song on the global arena to demonstrate Chinese people's will and national spirit in fighting against Japanese aggression and strive for national independence and liberation.

A true friend as he was to the Chinese people, Paul Robeson never had the chance to visit China though he dreamt of it all his life. He used to write "I have for a long time felt a close kinship with the Chinese people."

Now China Society for People's Friendship Studies intends to work out some publications in their original language about Paul Robeson in China, an effort to show China's appreciation for this true friend.

In 1998, Paul Robeson received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 22 years after his death.


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