Article and Video: The Most Famous Song in Kung Fu Films is an Unofficial Cantonese Anthem

Unisonance in Kung Fu Film Music, or the Wong Fei-hung Theme Song as a Cantonese Transnational Anthem.

Here are text and video versions of some research I did on the idea of unofficial anthems for transnations that precede, rupture, exceed and transgress the seemingly stable territories and borders of states. My case study was a song from Hong Kong kung fu cinema that is exceptionally well-known among generations of Cantonese people, who are a global nation with no sovereign state.

The article was published in Ethnomusicology Forum, 27(1) in 2018. Thanks to funding from the Irish Research Council, the article is freely open-access online as full-text or downloadable PDF: Go ahead and share it around!


Wong Fei-hung [黃飛鴻] was a Cantonese martial arts master from southern China who became associated with a melody called ‘General’s Ode’ [〈將軍令〉]. Since the 1950s, over 100 Hong Kong movies and television shows have forged the link by using this melody as Master Wong’s theme. During fieldwork in a Chinese Canadian kung fu club, I observed several consultants claiming this piece as a Cantonese national anthem—a hymn for a nation without a sovereign state. Virtual ethnography conducted online showed that this opinion is held more widely, but that the piece also inspires broader Chinese nationalist sentiment. My analysis of speech-tone relationships to melodic contour in Cantonese and Mandarin versions of the song, however, has revealed a tight integration with the former that the latter lacked. By sharpening Benedict Anderson’s concept of unisonance, I explore how this song has become an unofficial transnational anthem for Cantonese people, arguing that Master Wong’s theme auralises an abstract sense of imagined community.


Video of Presentation from the British Forum for Ethnomusicology (BFE) Annual Conference at Newcastle University, 14th April 2018.

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