Legal experts and social observers call for clarification of clause stipulating punishment for 'hurting Chinese national feelings'
Published: Sep 07, 2023 02:00 AM
Handcuffs photo: VCG

Handcuffs photo: VCG

As Chinese lawmakers move to revise the Law on Penalties for Administration of Public Security to better adapt to current social realities, debates have been escalating in recent days over a clause which stipulated punishment on people wearing clothes that "hurt the feelings of the Chinese nation."  

Legal experts and social observers urged clarification on its definition and applicable scenarios to avoid possible excessive enforcement. 

According to clause 34 of the draft, a person is subject to 5-10 days of detention and a fine of 1,000 ($137) to 3,000 yuan if the person wears, or forces others to wear clothes or signs that "jeopardize Chinese national spirit or hurt national feelings."

Those who make, distribute or spread such objects or remarks faces the same punishment. If the situation is serious, the person can be detained 10-15 days and fined up to 5,000 yuan. 

Other behaviors subjected to such punishment include to smear and deny heroes and martyrs' spirit and deeds, or to glorify invasion wars; to insult, slander the names, portraits, reputation of heroes and martyrs and infringe public interests. 

The clause is deemed to target some provocative actions to attract public attention, such as wearing uniform of Japanese invasion troops at sensitive sites or taint tombstones of martyrs, which have precedents. 

But many legal experts are concerned that the definition of the violation and applicable scenarios are unclear, therefore may lead to excessive enforcement and other problems in practice. 

The draft of the revision was deliberated by China's top legislature on August 28 and then published to solicit public opinions by September 30 before the legislation procedure proceeds. 

Zhao Hong, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, wrote online on Wednesday that the severity, scale and social impact of an action "hurting national feelings" should be clarified in legislation. Otherwise an action could be overinterpreted as violation, leading to infringement of personal rights. 

''What if the law enforcer, usually a police officer, has a personal interpretation of the hurt and initiates moral judgment of others beyond the scope of law," Zhao wrote, citing the case where a young woman wearing kimono, a traditional Japanese garment,  was temporarily detained. If that constitutes hurt, does eating Japanese cuisine or watching Japanese animation constitute a violation? Zhao asked. 

Some other legal experts said legally speaking, it is not workable to authorize an entity that can determine whether the feeling is hurt. The ambiguity of the clause could lead to selective law enforcement, abuse of power and could fuel populism or extreme nationalism. 

The clause is made to defend Chinese national dignity and feelings, but some internet opinions could be extreme and press for stricter law enforcement, Hu Xijin, a Chinese media professional and active commentator on social affairs, wrote on Sina Weibo.

Without specification, its ambiguity could cause confusion in practice and stir up more divisions in public sphere, Hu wrote. 

China's development and prosperity require an inclusive and relaxing social environment, and legislation should provide people with security and certainty. New policies should target specific issues and avoid being subject to misinterpretation, he wrote.  

Global Times