Dating back to the 18th century, “Mo Li Hua” was created during the Qianlong era (1735–1796) of the Qing dynasty.
The song began attracting listeners outside of China as early as the 19th century when it acted as a stand-in National Anthem for the Qing Dynasty government when their officials traveled to Europe in 1896. The song was later a part of Giacomo Puccini's last opera dubbed "Turandot," in 1926. In the years to follow, the song was adapted by several artists such as Kenny G and Anton Arensky, who included a part of the “Mo Li Hua” song in his piece, etude Op.25.
There have been varied versions of the song through the different regions of China; however, there have been famous iterations from Jiangsu Province that have gained international fame. The song’s currently known version was adapted by composer He Fang in 1942 when he collected folk songs in Jiangsu Province (Ying). This version gained popularity and in 1982 was included in musical textbooks by UNESCO, further promoting its popularity in the greater area of the Asia-Pacific. The He Fang adaptation is the version that I used in my music video recording of “Jasmine.”
When China regained its rule over Macau in 1999 and Hong Kong in 1997, the “Mo Li Hua” folk song was played at the ceremonies. In its various adaptations, the piece was also performed in the two Olympics that succeeded these Independence Day events in the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Olympics medal accolade ceremony (Liu). The song used in the 2008 event was an adaptation done by Tan Dun.
Organizers of the 2011 Chinese pro-democracy protests instructed protestors to play “Mo Li Hua” on the cell phones as a form of anti-government protest. This was the beginning of the Jasmine Revolution, causing authorities to place “Mo Li Hua” on their list of online censored materials. Because of the song’s association with Chinese culture and history, the censorship garnered widespread attention. New lyrics which expressed fear of retaliation were even written by activists as a response to the censorship.