The decision to incorporate the national anthem law into the Basic Law has caused quite a stir in Hong Kong. Many people fear the “erosion of freedom of thought” if the new legislation is introduced.
But while the law appears to be unnecessary and almost impossible to enforce, there are valid reasons why Hongkongers, especially opposition politicians, should respect the anthem, regardless of whether the bill is passed.
Many mainlanders find the overt attempts to disrespect the March of the Volunteers particularly insulting. Popularised during the Japanese occupation of China, the song is rooted in the collective national struggle against fascism and colonialism.
With no mention of the Communist Party nor its ideology, the song was also reported to be popular among Kuomintang members during the war against Japan. Given its role as a symbol of resistance in a time of great peril, the booing of the national anthem by local football fans is not only an insult to those who have survived Japanese aggression, but also an affront to the collective Chinese identity.
No matter how disenfranchised they may feel, taking their frustration out on an apolitical national symbol isn’t sensible nor would it help their cause.
The anthem incidents in Hong Kong are also more severe compared to similar protests in the United States. The act of kneeling, as described by Eric Reid – one of the NFL players involved in the protests – is a respectful gesture akin to “a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy”. It doesn’t attempt to subvert or reject their national identity and doesn’t interfere with the others’ enjoyment or appreciation of the anthem. This is in stark contrast to the rowdy Hong Kong football fans who jeered at the national anthem.
As the US players showed, it is indeed possible to protest against the status quo while maintaining respect; what the Hong Kong fans did was simply insensitive and childish.
In addition, the pan-democrats should respect the anthem in public even if they don’t agree with the legislation. The radical localists have already carved out a support base that has no regard for the concept of national unity; pandering to that sector by appearing to disrespect the anthem would only alienate the moderates who are clinging on to the China concept despite being unhappy with the government.
Also, if pan-democrats show some restraint, they could avoid being branded by pro-establishment groups as unreasonable and disloyal like the “separatists”. A little respect could save them a whole lot of trouble.
Although the enactment of the law would not be a wise move due to its highly contentious nature, Hongkongers should realise that their Chinese identity is not something to be taken lightly. Regardless of their feelings toward the government, it is time for the public to show respect to an important national symbol.