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Chinese Lawmakers Seek to Protect Dead Communist Heroes With New Law

Lei Feng has been depicted as a national hero since 1963.

China's national parliamentary body recently passed legislation for the country's first expansive civil code, which will help judges decide legal disputes on property, contracts, inheritance, and marriage.

The new code, which is expected to be adopted in 2020, builds on the few existing civil laws in the communist country. Of the current 126 additions tabled by the legislature, the most controversial is to make the defaming of national communist “heroes and martyrs” a civil offence.

Critics are worried the new ‘hero law’ could have a chilling effect on academic and historical inquiry in China. Many academics believe narratives about national heroes have been manipulated or fabricated for the propose of ideological control by the ruling Communist Party. The new rule states:

侵害英雄、烈士的姓名、肖像、名譽、榮譽,損害社會公共利益的,應當承擔民事責任。

Encroaching upon the name, portrait, reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs harms the public interest, and should bear civil liability.

Law professor Fang Liufang raised a series of questions on the hero law:

什么是“英烈”?“英烈”如何证明?哪个政府能颁发有效证明?古代有没有?如果古代也有,“英烈”的名誉保护追溯到哪个年代,春秋战国还是唐、宋、元、明、清、民国?如果古代没有“英烈”,那又为什么?更重要的是,谁能代表“英烈”向法院起诉?

What is a hero? How can you prove that a person is a hero? Which government can provide a certification for that? Did we have that in ancient times? If yes, are we to trace back and protect heroes starting from a particular historical moment? From the Chunqui Period or Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing, Republic of China? If not, why not? More importantly, who can represent “heroes” in courts?

China has been trying to write a civil code since 1954. Under Communist rule it made little progress until 1985, when an inheritance law was passed. In 1999, a contract law was passed and a property law passed in 2007. But major gaps remain. China has a civil-law system, which means laws are crucial references for judges. Unlike common-law countries, such as Britain and America, Chinese judges do not have precedent, or previous rulings by courts, to turn to when deciding verdicts.

China hopes the new civil code will provide a stable legal framework for its 1.3 billion rapidly evolving society and its increasingly complex disputes. But for some, the new code is being seen as another tool for government control:

这法 那法改来改去,一切都是为了制民!为了自身权力的稳固而己……只要对权力有利的,任何法都可以改,因为我们百姓没有选举权!

All these changes in law are aimed at controlling citizens! Just for the stability of the ruling power……any law could be changed as long as it’s good for the power because we don’t have the right to vote!

谁有制定英雄的专利?又是政府?

Who has the right to define a hero? The government again?

什么人才算是真正的英雄?什么样的行为属于抹黑?这些问题不解决这类法律条文注定会成为某些人大兴“文字狱”的借口和工具。

Who can be called a hero? What actions can be defined as defaming? Without solving these questions these kinds of provisions could become excuses and tools for literary inquisition.

Glorious narratives of revolutionary heroes are crucial to the party's legitimacy.

The most well-known example is Lei Feng. His image, as a role model serviceman, has survived decades of political change in China. Lei and his ‘selfless spirit’ and ‘fanatic loyalty’ to the party’s leader Mao has been promoted by the party.

Many ask how Lei, who was nearly illiterate, could have possibly written the voluminous diaries that are attributed to him. Others question the authenticity of pictures shot by professional photographers of Lei doing good deeds, even though he was a common soldier.

Outside China, many scholars have concluded that the story of Lei Feng is certainly a fabrication.

Against this background, Peking University legal professor He Weifang slammed the new rule as “unacceptable” in an interview with Wall Street Journal last week as there was no legal standard for deciding who qualifies as a hero. Many from the legal sector shared his view.

Even before the amendment was tabled for review, there have been a number of court cases involving “defaming heroes”.

Last year, in August, an editor of historical books, Hong Zhenkuai, was ordered by a Beijing court to apologize publicly for defaming anti-Japanese heroes after he published two articles to question the party’s narrative of the “Five Heroes of Langya Mountain”.

The tale of how the five men fended off Japanese troops atop a mountain peak in Hebei Province, choosing to smash their weapons and leap rather than surrender, has been memorialized in textbooks, museums, paintings and plays. But the editor’s articles suggest the truth may be not as heroic as propagandized.

When questions are boiled down to “historical nihilism”

Hong's insistence to dig into historical fact has been labelled as “historical nihilism” and the ruling China Community Party has considered it a major ideological battlefield. An article from CCP's publication, Red Flag, published a survey on “historical nihilism” in a dozen universities in January 2017 and spelled out its political impact on China’ socialist path:

一些针对革命领袖、民族英雄、爱国志士的恶搞“段子”、恶搞视频,就是历史虚无主义错误言论和历史观、价值观利用各种论坛、博客、微博、微信以及新型视频网站散播的。

Stories, videos mocking revolution leaders, national heroes and patriotic figures are historical nihilism. They spread misinformation and false historical view through forums, blogs, Weibo, Wechat and video platforms.

历史虚无主义思潮在互联网上的传播和蔓延,致使一部分学生接受它的观点,甚至对正确历史观和正确价值观产生了怀疑;高校学术研究中普遍存在重学术轻是非的研究导向,导致师生缺乏辨别、判断历史虚无主义观点的标尺,更缺乏判断理论是非的引导。

The wide distribution of historical nihilism has misled students into questioning the rightful historical view and value. In university academic research, academic questions trump “right and wrong”. Teachers and students have lost their judgement in historical nihilism, and failed to distinguish which are the right theories.

The publication concludes that those who question the Communist Party's historical narratives, are “western tools for sustaining global hegemony.”

对历史虚无主义认同的人,同样比较认同新自由主义。研究苏联解体的历史不难发现,新自由主义与历史虚无主义往往同时在经济、政治、意识形态等多个领域相互影响,相互作用。从根本上看,这两种思潮具有相同的价值取向和政治立场,都是西方国家推行全球霸权战略的工具,它们分别从历史维度和现实维度否定中国共产党的领导,否定社会主义道路…

Those who tend to identify with historical nihilism, also tend to identify with neoliberalism. As found in the studies of the disintegration of USSR, the two sets of ideologies have close co-relation in economic, political and ideological domain. Fundamentally speaking, the two school of thoughts shared similar values and political views and they are western tools for sustaining global hegemony. They deny CCP's leadership and socialist path by reinterpreting history and reality…

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