A new draft patriotic education law submitted last week to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee is spurring spirited online debate. Broad in scope, the draft law includes provisions for the role of Chinese media outlets and online platforms in promoting patriotic education; punishments for various behaviors deemed insulting or unpatriotic; and guidelines for expanding patriotic education in Hong Kong, Macao, self-governing Taiwan, and even overseas Chinese communities further afield.
While the draft law emphasizes “promoting the spirit of patriotism,” the broader goal seems to be to legislate “love and devotion” to the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, and other high-ranking leaders. China Media Project’s Ryan Ho Kilpatrick described the motivations, provisions, and implications of the wide-ranging draft law:
[T]he draft bill lays out nine “main content” points of patriotic education. Six of these are explicitly political: they cover Marxism; Maoism; the theories of Xi Jinping; the leadership, achievements, and history of the CCP; revolutionary and socialist culture; national unity; and revolutionary martyrs.
Closing articles in the draft lay out a litany of offenses that range from “undermining the dignity” of the national anthem, flag, and emblems to “denying the deeds of national heroes” and “denying acts of aggression” by foreign countries.
[…] In spirit, the draft bill reads like a return to the Patriotic Education Movements of the 1990s — a conservative backlash to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that stoked “national humiliation” resentments and patriotism to restore the CCP’s damaged legitimacy in the wake of its bloody crackdown on the protestors and its move away from Communist orthodoxy in favor of market reforms.
In scope, however, it adds significantly to both the technologies and jurisdictions affected. It requires internet content and service providers — as well as broadcasters and publishers — to strengthen the creation and dissemination of patriotic content and to develop new platforms and products to actively promote patriotism online. [Source]
Although the law is still in its early stages—legal experts say that there will be a period of “solicit[ing] opinions and suggestions from the public through various channels”—Chinese state- and party-controlled media have already launched a broadside against criticism of the law. A recent Global Times op-ed termed such criticism “malicious,” and laid the blame on hostile foreign forces bent on promoting “historical nihilism”: “Some forces in the West don’t want to see China strengthening its patriotic education. Deep inside, they hope to cultivate believers in historical nihilism within China so that Western ideology can be easily imposed on the country.” Some internet users have noted that online state-media reports on the draft legislation have already disabled their comment sections, suggesting that future public feedback on the draft law may be subject to similar constraints.
CDT editors have archived and translated some discussion and comments about the draft law made by users on Zhihu, a Quora-like Chinese language site (usernames appear in bold, followed by a colon):
胖柒: “How’d you end up in prison?”
“Someone asked me, ‘Do you love your country?’”
“So they put you in prison because you weren’t patriotic enough?”
“No. I answered, ‘I love my country exactly as much as it loves me.’”
“Oh, so that’s why you’re in prison.”
天星舰水手: Just because one’s own children have American citizenship needn’t deter you from teaching other people’s children how to be patriotic Chinese.
ccc: I support deporting the unpatriotic, preferably to “infinitely evil” Amerika.
痴蔫呆傻: What I’d like to know is why all these party-controlled media outlets won’t allow people to leave comments under their news articles about legislation to strengthen patriotism. What are they afraid of? What are they feeling guilty about?
一般路过人士: You’ve got to be kidding me. These people have schemed their way to getting their kids foreign citizenship, either by making sure they were born abroad, or by packing them off overseas for every rung up the ladder: junior high, high school, college, and eventually an overseas job. How can they possibly be qualified to educate Chinese people on how to be patriotic? It’s a colossal joke.
休斯顿正脸: Chinese people never love other Chinese people, but they sure are patriotic. After all, loving others requires genuine feeling and devotion, and you have to invest a lot of time, money, and effort, whereas the only thing that “patriotism” requires is lip service.
WEWE: Supporter here: I can hardly wait! Can’t they hurry it up?
啊土豆: If they can enforce this law, why can’t they manage to enforce the Labor Law?
明天不来: Given the current status quo in China, the best form of patriotic education would be to enforce the National Labor Law. Anyone who opposes that is unpatriotic.
道左: Love. Is. Reciprocal.
If you’re fully aware that the other party doesn’t love you, but you shamelessly grovel to them again and again, you’re nothing more than a lapdog.
Enforce the labor law, implement rule of law, and dedicate yourself to serving the people. Rid yourself of the princelings, the wealth-flaunters, that Big G in his palace, and “the rat’s heads masquerading as duck’s necks.” Then we won’t need you to teach us how to love our country.
Everyone’s patriotic, but what we love is a China with five thousand years of civilization. What we love is the new China that we ourselves built, brick by brick.
喝水水: I propose that polygraphs be used to test people’s patriotism. Those who aren’t patriotic enough will be given electroshock therapy until they’re sufficiently patriotic.
知乎匿名用户 (anonymous Zhihu user): I am genuinely terrified.
If sharp criticism is outlawed, mild criticism will come to be seen as harsh. And if even mild criticism is not permitted, silence will come to be seen as suspect. And if silence is no longer permitted, failure to agree enthusiastically enough will become a criminal act. If only one voice is permitted, then that lone voice will speak only falsehoods. [Chinese]