Sing Hallelujah to the Lord

Recent massed protests in Hong Kong have taken on an odd chant-related character. Opposition to a proposed extradition law has led to a spontaneous and immense popular arising on the streets, which, despite small outbreaks of violence on the fringes, have been characterised by restraint and sobriety. However, the little violence that has occurred has been seized on by the authorities to characterise the protest as an “organized riot.”

In reaction to that, a Christian hymn, “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” which was being sung by some specifically Christian groups, has now been adopted as an unofficial anthem of the protests. This article in the Shanghaiist provides many examples of video posted to twitter, showing how widespread the practice is. Here is a link to a recording of a livestream in which the chant is carried on for about 2 hours.

One interesting feature of this development is the parallel it exhibits to practices that are unexceptional in a ritual or liturgical context. The use of a reserved language for solemn purposes, different from the vernacular of those taking part, and perhaps even not understood by those uttering the words, occurs again and again. This was the role of Latin in Catholic masses until Vatican 2. It describes the position of Hebrew before the founding of the state of Israel, or of Ge’ez in Ethiopia or Coptic in Egypt today. My oldest example lies in the Temple Hymn of Kesh, which was a liturgical text in use from about 2,600 to 1,600 BCE as the ambient language changed from Sumerian to Akkadian.