Songs are a powerful form of art. To uprooted immigrants across the ocean, songs from hometown bring a sense of belonging and nostalgic memories. But the song “I am a Soldier” chanted by the Canada Chinese Veterans Society members in Toronto has sparked heated controversy.
“I am a soldier, from the common people.” For those veterans now settling down in a foreign country, the song has profound impacts on their lives. It celebrates their courage and friendship and honors their journeys and sacrifices. Many senior or middle-aged Chinese folks can relate to this song on a personal level. It takes them down the memory lane, to their passionate youth and devoted path. Members of the Society said that the song helped them connect with people who share similar military experiences as they build their lives in Canada.
But like most popular songs in China five decades ago, “I am a soldier” has a profound political implication, touting the significant contributions of the Chinese military to the Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Communist Revolution. “It defeated the Japanese, vanquished National leader Chiang Kai Shek and being tested by the revolutionary War.” As a part of the Chinese government propaganda operation, the song carries a specific political message.
The political message that the song advocated for has been under intense global scrutiny decades later. That the PLA won a victory in the anti-Japanese war proves to be a big lie in history. Research by independent scholars reveals that it was Kuomintang that defended China against Imperial Japanese during WWII, but the PLA claimed the credit for it. Since the Chinese communist party took power in 1949, the army has grown into a powerful military force to quell democratic uprisings. It crushed Tiananmen protests, occupied Tibet, and provided background supports to Hong Kong police.
The song has sparked backlash as it spreads across the ocean and into the democratic country of Canada. The National Post article “Canadian veterans of People’s Liberation Army form association, sing of China’s martial glory” sheds light on the critical voices in the Chinese community that oppose the song and the form of the Veteran Society. It also raises the questions of how far a newcomer from China can go in honoring their motherland.
“I strongly condemn this kind of activity. I don’t know to what degree that they (the veterans) call themselves a Canadian,” Chinese Canadian writer Anna Wang, the author of the book “Inconvenient Memories” told the Post. “I think they are taking advantage of the freedom of speech in Western countries.”
“They took advantage of democracy, of the Canadian system,” said political scientist Sherman Lai, a retired PLA lieutenant-colonel. “But communist, the PLA is not compatible with democracy and the rule of law.”
The Post article has prompted an outcry from the society members and its supporters as they took their frustrations on WeChat:” this is an extremely unfair criticism. Canada is a country that embraces diversity, tolerance, and inclusiveness. It is a direct violation of these Canadian values by not allowing newcomers in Canada to sing our favorite songs from home country.”
But Canada eschews cultural and religious diversity, not political influences brought in by a foreign country. And Canada does not accept Beijing’s penetration through any forms of art and culture, particularly at a time when the authoritarian government increasingly flexes its political muscle at our middle powered country.
“Before their nostalgia, there is a very bloody history,” said Sherman Lai in the interview with the Post.
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