Qing Dynasty Anthem (1911-12) – China’s First Anthem
On October 4, 1911, the Qing Empire issued China’s first national anthem, known as Gong Jin Ou (Chinese: 鞏金甌; pinyin: gǒng jīn’ōu, literally “Cup of Solid Gold”). It was the 3rd year of the reign of 5-year-old Emperor Xuantong (better known as Puyi).
Because the Qing Empire was not a state in the modern sense, it had never had a national anthem before. Zeng Jize (1839 – April 12, 1890, traditional Chinese: 曾紀澤), one of China’s first diplomats stationed in the West, observed that Western nations performed national anthems on official occasions. In 1883 he composed a song in honour of the Qing Empire (“普天樂”) and sent it to the Qing court, but the song was never officially used.
In the following years several songs were produced in succession, which were used as semi-official hymns from time to time. One of them was Praise the Dragon Flag (“頌龍旗”). The song was composed in 1906, when the Board of War and the Bureau of Military Reorganisation were merged to form the Ministry of War (陸軍部). This became the unofficial anthem of the Empire, used on official occasions whenever it was needed.
In 1911 the Ministry of Rites (禮部衙門) drew up an official directive on how to write a national anthem. Several anthems from other nations were taken into consideration. The British and Japanese anthems were used as blueprints, probably because they emphasised the role of the monarchy.
The anthem was written by scholars Yan Fu (嚴復; pinyin: Yán Fù) and Pu Dong (溥侗, pinyin: Pǔ Dòng). Since it didn’t have a title it became known simply as Gong Jin’ou (鞏金甌), from the first verse of the song.
The anthem, which praised the Qing Dynasty and was supposed to be propitious, had a tragic history. Only six days after it had been officially adopted, the Wuchang Uprising broke out. The revolt led to the swift and irreversible collapse of the Qing Empire and the subsequent proclamation of the Republic of China. With the disintegration of the unpopular Qing rule, the first anthem of China fell into oblivion.
Here is the text of the anthem:
Firm and stable be the golden cup [the Empire] domed by the Celestial concave.
In it men and things happily prosper. Glad are we who live in the time of Purity.
May Heaven protect and secure us from enemies and help us to reach the truly golden age.
The blue firmament is infinitely high and the seas flow everlastingly.