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China Debates Banning Hand-on-Heart Patriotic Gesture, Deeming It Too ‘American’

(L-R) China's Ding Ning, coach Kong Linghui, Li Xiaoxia and Liu Shiwen posing with the national Chinese flag after winning gold medals in the women's team final table tennis at the Riocentro venue during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro
AFP JUAN MABROMATA
FRANCES MARTEL

A member of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, has proposed banning individuals from holding their hearts with their hands during the playing of the national anthem, suggesting the gesture is too “American” for Chinese patriots.

The suggestion is part of a larger debate to draft a law preventing what communist legislators call the “abuse” of the “March of the Volunteers,” the country’s anthem.

The state-run publication Global Times identifies the legislator in question as Chen Guoling of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee. Chen reportedly claimed that “putting a hand over the heart during the playing of the national anthem should be prohibited because it originated from a US law in 1942.”

“Chinese citizens should not adopt the gesture and should respect domestic customs and laws,” Chen reportedly argued, suggesting a new law ban “any posture, including foreign, religious or self-made” during the anthem.

The current draft of the law, according to the Diplomat, requires that Chinese people “stand still and in a solemn manner. When the song is played together with a national flag raising ceremony, the people in presence should face toward the national flag; people in military uniforms should salute to the flag with hands, while the others should salute with eyes.”

Americans have been holding their hands over their hearts during “The Star-Spangled Banner” since 1942, following the modification of the U.S. Flag Code to do away with the “Bellamy salute,” a gesture that many believed too similar to what is now commonly known as the Nazi salute. While patriots of all countries have adopted the gesture, it remains a primarily American one.

The history of the gesture did not stop some Chinese people from protesting the proposed ban via the internet. The South China Morning Post notes that many on the internet disagreed that the government should be able to prohibit them from expressing their love for the Chinese flag, which in no way represents any fondness towards America.

The proposed ban is one of a number of legal modifications being debated by Chinese lawmakers in an attempt to discipline Chinese people into more uniform patriotic expressions. One legislator, the Global Times reported, suggested detaining any Chinese citizen who “mars the anthem on purpose” in jail for more than the current twelve-day period. The current drafted legislation would land anyone found guilty of this crime in prison for “up to 15 days.”

The law also proposes making it illegal to play the national anthem during “improper events” such as commercials and funerals, or as “background music at public places” where it may not be audible enough for all to stop and properly observe its playing.

It is not clear whether an exception will be made for the funerals of public officials or soldiers. The Global Times suggests that the law would force local governments to “regulate and supervise” any use of the national anthem, and schools would be required to ensure all children learn the anthem as a “key part” of their education.

The Chinese government has welcomed many American influences into the country, so long as they do not appear to challenge the Communist Party. The government screens Hollywood movies for any questionable content and closely monitors entertainment and social media. Increasingly, the Communist Party has moved to eradicate “Western” culture from China entirely.

In February 2015, China moved to censor any “textbooks promoting Western values” in universities, threatening to punish professors who insisted on using textbooks that defied the approved list the government provided. The Chinese government never provided a clear definition of what “Western values” schools should avoid.

In 2016, the government launched an advertising campaign warning Chinese women not to seek romantic relationships with “Western” men, and a year later, Chinese officials banned publishers from importing a variety of children’s books from the West, citing an “inflow of ideology” that the communist government opposed from children’s literature.

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