march of the volunteers

I’ve learned that my people are not the only ones oppressed. That
it is the same for Jews or Chinese as for Negroes. . . . I found that
where forces have been the same, whether people weave, build,
pick cotton, or dig in the mines, they understand each other
in the common language of work, suffering and protest.
paul robeson
“Qilai! Buyuan zuo nuli de renmen!” (Arise! All who refuse to be slaves!), Paul
Robeson sang on a moderately cool evening in 1940. Moments earlier, be-
fore an audience of seven thousand people, under the twilight of the Harlem
sky, the baritone soloist walked downstage at the Lewisohn Stadium for his
final song. This concert, like most others, had revealed the diversity of the
thespian- activist’s musical catalogue. The set included “Ol’ Man River,” the
landmark tune about dockworkers made famous in the play and film Showboat;
“I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night,” an ode to the early twentieth- century
Swedish American labor activist and miner; and the classic African American
spiritual “Go Down Moses” (commonly referred to as “Let My People Go”).1
But to close the performance, Robeson opted to sing a new piece, albeit a song
that had been sung over the course of the previous decade by troops in defiance
of Japanese occupation. “I want to sing a song for the heroic Chinese people
in battle,” he explained.2
Instructing the audience to “qilai!” (rise up), Robeson launched into “March
of the Volunteers” (“Yiyongjun jinxingqu”), China’s anthem of resistance
against Japanese and Western domination, a song later adopted as the Chi-
nese national anthem:
All who refuse to be slaves!
Let our flesh and blood forge into our new Great Wall!
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