“Hurting the feelings of the Chinese nation” could be punished by up to two weeks in detention without trial, according to a proposed legal amendment that has triggered a backlash amid widespread concerns of abuse.
The clause stipulates six acts that could attract up to 15 days in detention, including “wearing or forcing another person to wear clothing or symbols that are harmful to the spirit … or the feelings of the Chinese nation in a public place”.
“Producing, disseminating, propagating or spreading articles or remarks” regarded as harmful would also be liable for punishment under the proposed amendment to the 2006 law that targets minor offences and is generally enforced by grass roots police.
Violations of the law in question are not considered crimes and offenders are not taken through the courts. They can face fines and up to 15 days in detention, as well as a record on their resumes which may affect education and work prospects.
Lawyers and experts argue that the proposed Article 34 would give grass roots police – who operate at the county level – unevenly large powers which could be abused. They also expressed concern that it could add more oxygen to extreme nationalism.
Wei Rujiu, a criminal lawyer based in Beijing, said the new article is too vague because of a lack of consensus about what constitutes the “spirit of the Chinese nation”.
University of Hong Kong law and sociology professor Liu Sida also described the legislation as vague and said it could have consequences unintended by lawmakers.
Liu pointed to the extent of the powers held by China’s county level police and their capacity to restrict citizens’ freedoms. “It’s severe that when a police officer at the grass roots level says you hurt the feelings of the Chinese nation, you lose your freedom for 15 days.”
Lao Dongyan, a professor of criminal law at Tsinghua University, said the proposed amendment “will create new space for corruption and may also intensify the conflict between the police and the public, posing new risks to social stability”.
Writing on social media platform Weibo on Thursday afternoon, Lao added that the law could boost extreme nationalism and may also create extra antagonism with some countries, leading to more diplomactic problems.
Another Beijing-based lawyer, who requested anonymity, observed that “the first thing that comes to mind when the public thinks of an outfit that hurts the feelings of the Chinese nation is the kimono”.
The national dress of Japan, once highly popular among Chinese fans of Japanese culture, has become controversial in recent years amid Beijing’s worsening relations with Tokyo.
Sentiment towards Japan tends to rise and fall in Chinese society – where enmity has lingered because of the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s – in line with changes in the relationship between the two countries
A woman wearing a kimono on a Japanese-style shopping street in eastern China was taken to a police station in August last year and accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.
The ambiguous charge was introduced into China’s criminal law in 1997 and has long been regarded as a “pocket crime” used to silence dissidents. The Supreme Court last month said in an investigation that the offence had been overused.
The review of the Public Security Administration Punishment Law is the largest since a minor revision in 2012. Other draft amendments cover cheating in exams, interfering with bus driving, releasing sky lanterns and other minor misbehaviours.
A further amendment proposes that authorities seal the records of the law’s underage offenders so that their future employment will not be affected.