China Imposes 15-Day Jail Sentences for ‘Disrespecting’ National Anthem

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 08: A military honour guard raises the flag of China during a table tennis medal ceremony on day 10 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at ExCel on September 8, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

China’s federal legislature passed a law Friday banning “disrespect” for its national anthem, the “March of the Volunteers.” Lawmakers have defined “disrespect” variously as parodies of the anthem, use of the tune as background music, or playing the song during commercials.

China’s People’s Daily state publication has confirmed the law will take effect on October 1, and violators will have up to 15 days in prison. The People’s Daily asserts the law is necessary to assure “appropriate” use of the anthem.

Proper deference to the national anthem may prove difficult in China’s many breakaway regions, from the nation of Taiwan to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet.

In the text of the law, the National People’s Congress (NPC)—controlled, as is everything in China, by the Communist Party—insists the regulation is necessary to “promote patriotism and nurture socialist core values.” In addition to banning the use of the anthem in commercials, it prevents Chinese people from playing the anthem at funerals and criminalizes not standing up and singing the anthem when played in public. It also bans playing the song at “inappropriate locations,” to be defined by law enforcement. The Times specifics the anthem will be allowed “at formal political gatherings, such as the opening and closing of the NPC sessions, constitutional oath ceremonies and flag raising ceremonies.”

Quoted in the state-run newspaper Global Times, professor Su Wei explained the alleged need for the law, stating, “The national anthem is rooted in Chinese revolution. Recognizing China’s anthem is to recognize the Communist Party of China’s accomplishments in the revolution.”

“The new law brings treatment of the anthem into line with desecration of China’s national flag, or its emblem, which has been a criminal offence punishable by up to 15 days’ detention since the 1990s,” Reuters notes. It also ultimately features harsher criminal sanctions than the original drafts, which have been months in the making. It also does not adopt stricter measures regarding how to properly honor the national anthem proposed during the legislative process.

In June, for example, a lawmaker suggested banning holding one’s hand to one’s heart during the national anthem, arguing 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.” While the gesture is traditionally an American one, many nations have adopted it to honor the playing of their anthems. Draft legal language would have banned “any posture, including foreign, religious or self-made” during the anthem.

The law also enforces the teaching of reverence to the anthem in schools. The anthem legislation follows the announcement of a series of reforms meant to inject more nationalistic fervor into school curricula, including teaching students that China’s claims to disputed territories in the East and South China Seas are widely accepted. New history curricula will also place a stronger emphasis on teaching students the horrors of the war between China and Japan in the 1930s and 40s, an outgrowth of World War II.

Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has moved to overhaul the education system; Beijing announced reforms to dispose of Chinese textbooks “promoting Western values” in 2015. Xi has also promoted the expansive concept of the “Chinese Dream,” an alternative to the “American dream” promoting Chinese hegemony, expansion of Chinese political and economic influence, and heightened nationalistic sentiment in the country.

“We must make persistent efforts, press ahead with indomitable will, continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Xi said in 2013.

“Socialism with Chinese characteristics” has become all but a national motto, enforced with particular rigor in parts of the country facing separatist movements. Taiwan considers itself a sovereign nation despite China’s consistent claims that there is “only one China,” not a Republic of China and a communist China; Hong Kong has increasingly protested Beijing’s growing control over its democratic system. In the regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, Buddhist and Muslim separatist protest China’s imposition of state Marxist atheism and strict rules preventing the free exercise of religion.

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