On Wednesday, the Hong Kong government unveiled a controversial bill to criminalise those who disrespect China’s national anthem. Further, primary and secondary school students would be required to sing and study the song at school.
The proposed law, which will be presented to the Legislative Council on January 23 for its first reading, forbids playing March of the Volunteers “in a distorted or disrespectful way, with intent to insult”. The bill lays out the proper way and place to sing the anthem, barring people from performing it at parties, weddings, and funerals. It also outlaws those who alter the song’s lyrics and its score. Offenders can face up to three years in prison, as well as a maximum fine of HK$50,000.
Another important provision of the bill is for the Secretary of Education to ensure the national anthem is incorporated into primary and secondary education, including at international and special schools. Students will learn how to sing the song, and study the historical and spiritual significance of the anthem. But some students see it as a tightening of control on the freedom of expression, and are sceptical about the intended effectiveness of teaching the Chinese national anthem in international schools.
“I oppose [the bill]. Despite being a Special Administrative Region of China, we are entitled to voice our opinions, including those against China. This law would essentially force our children to sing an anthem that they do not associate with, Chinese or otherwise,” said 18-year-old Laura Elizabeth Johnson, a student from YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College.
“Why should we need to learn how to sing the national anthem? This would be hard to teach as many expats simply don’t speak Mandarin,” added Zachary Perez Jones, 14, from South Island School.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the National Anthem Law will be implemented by local legislation with regard to the city’s common law system, an approach that “fully demonstrates the spirit of the 'one country, two systems' principle”.
“The main spirit of the National Anthem Bill is respect, a behaviour which is natural, easily understood and not hard to display. As such, the bill will not affect the daily life of the general public,” Nip added.
In addition, the bill provides for authorities to take as long as two years to prosecute offenders. In contrast, the prosecution time limit for other crimes under the Magistrates Ordinance is six months.
The prolonged prosecution period is said to help tackle violations involving “a large crowd of unidentified culprits” such as defiant soccer fans who have been known to boo the anthem being played at international matches in the city.