One of the most tantalising comments from Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China concerns Christian hymn tunes. The book is, of course, the result of the first visit by a non-Chinese journalist to the soviets of the Red districts in China’s northwest in the 1930s. Not being particularly interested in matters religious, he notes in passing that the Communist youth organisations led mass singing every day. They were largely revolutionary songs, but then he comments that many of the tunes were from Christian hymns (p. 382).

Such a juicy tidbit leaves one wondering. Did they appropriate some catchy tunes from the many missionaries who plied their trade? If so, then those missionaries sowed an unexpected seed. Did they borrow them from the Russians, who inspired many a revolutionary movement? Or did those tunes themselves embody some elements from that intermittent revolutionary tradition at the core of Christianity? That would mean it was no coincidence that Chinese revolutionary songs were put to Christian hymn tunes.