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Research Guides

Hong Kong Studies

Cantonese Language

Colin P. McGuire (2018) Unisonance in kung fu film music, or the Wong Fei-hung theme song as a Cantonese transnational anthem, Ethnomusicology Forum,27:1, 48-67, DOI: 10.1080/17411912.2018.1463549

Wong Fei-hung was a Cantonese martial arts master from southern China who became associated with a melody called ‘General’s Ode’. 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 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.