A drafted patriotic education law was submitted to the standing committee of the China People's Congress for its first reading on June 26, 2023.
The law requires all institutions, governments, schools at all levels, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) branches, media outlets, internet service providers, enterprises, public institutions, and people’s organizations, including worker and women groups, professional groups, etc., to undertake patriotic education in their job descriptions.
Throughout the history of the CCP, praising the Party’s spiritual leaders, from Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping, and ritualistic acts related to national symbols (flag and anthem) are placed at the core of patriotic education. Other subjects are China’s scenery and landscapes, knowledge of ethnic unity, national security, and deeds of heroes and martyrs in China's history.
The law calls for sanctions on acts that insult national symbols, defame heroes and martyrs, deny foreign invasions and massacres, and occupy or destroy patriotic education facilities.
It aims to enhance patriotism for all Chinese people both within the country and overseas, particularly citizens from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
In response to the legislation, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, John Lee, stated that the proposed national law “facilitates the building of a mainstream value that sees loving China and Hong Kong as its core” and that regardless of whether the proposed law is applicable to Hong Kong, the government would comply with its requirements.
There is no lack of controversy regarding the legislation. One most circulated comment by Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University, stressed that patriotism, like other love relations, should come naturally and could not be indoctrinated. His view was widely criticized as “demonizing” patriotic education, and some cited patriotic education within the US to justify the new law. But other Chinese bloggers like Chris Cai pointed out that the act of burning the US national flag is protected under the First Amendment, as indicated in the United States vs. Eichman (1990) court case, proving key differences in nationalism in the US and China. The US court also ruled that pledging allegiance to the national flag can not be mandatory in schools (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette).
Although many critical commentaries have been removed or hidden from public view on Weibo, among the supporters of the law, some of the comments go so far as to sound like parodies. For example, under state-affiliated Xinhua’s news thread on Weibo, suggestions on the implementation of the law are brow raising:
Introduce a public behaviour norm guide and criminalize acts that deviate from the norm.
(Let patriotic education) replace the English subject in public examinations.
Crack down on satire using politically corrected language, oversimplified interpretations of the CCP’s idea, and fake patriots.
China Digital Times also translated some comments and jokes on the draft law on Chinese Quora-like Zhihu:
“How’d you end up in prison?”
“Someone asked me, ‘Do you love your country?’”
“So they put you imprison 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.”
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.
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.