The law provides for 'patriotic' education in Hong Kong, Macau and overseas Chinese communities
By Hsia Hsiao-hwa and Gu Ting for RFA Mandarin, Chingman for RFA Cantonese
June 27, 2023
Chinese President Xi Jinping leads other top officials to pledge their vows to the party, seen on a giant screen during a show for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, June 28, 2021.
Under a proposed law to boost patriotic education in China, schools would be required to have students study “Xi Jinping Thought,” the latest step by authorities to indoctrinate the country’s youth with propaganda about the Communist Party and its leader.
According to draft legislation before the National People's Congress, schools and organizations involving children and young people have a duty to carry out ideological and political education, including the Communist Party's official version of history, national symbols, "national unity" and "national security," state media reported this week.
The law is part of an ongoing bid by the Chinese Communist Party to fine-tune control over people's thoughts, words and deeds, according to political commentators.
"What this means is that anything they don't like -- any ideas or comments -- will be criminalized as unpatriotic," said U.S.-based commentator Hu Pinghe. "People will be characterized as traitors to the Chinese people."
The move comes after photos and reports emerged on social media platforms showing a student holding a placard on the campus of Peking University calling for an end to "one-party authoritarian rule."
"Embrace a multi-party system," read the banner. Unconfirmed reports on social media said a person was led away from the scene of the June 22 lone protest, which recalled the banners hung by "Bridge Man" protester Peng Lifa from the Sitong traffic flyover in Beijing on the eve of the 20th party congress last October.
A protester displays a placard during the Dragon Boat Festival that reads "Abolish one-party totalitarianism, embrace multi-party system" at Peking University. Credit: Twitter/@Guting
The protest took place during Dragon Boat Festival, when boats are raced and rice dumplings are made to honor Warring States-era poet Qu Yuan, who according to popular legend drowned himself in protest at official corruption.
Instead, the authorities have been at pains to bill Qu Yuan as "a patriot," in a bid to stamp out any expression of public opposition to the current government, analysts said.
The draft law will make "patriotic activities" legally mandated for many people in China, particularly children and young people, according to state media reports and commentators.
"The spirit of patriotism would be promoted through national merit and honor awards, activities during the country's National Day, important anniversaries and major festivals, as well as through flag-raising ceremonies, the singing of the national anthem and pledges of allegiance to the Constitution," state news agency Xinhua said in a report on the draft law.
According to the English-language China Daily newspaper, "the patriotic education of teenagers" is of particular concern, and includes measures to boost patriotic feeling in Hong Kong and Macau.
Security officers stand guard at the Great Hall of the People before a session of China's National People's Congress in Beijing, March 7, 2023. Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP
In 2012, the Hong Kong government temporarily shelved plans to introduce a Beijing-backed program of "patriotic education" into the city's schools following mass protests by high school students, then withdrew the Liberal Studies critical thinking program from schools, replacing it with a more patriotic program focusing on "national security" and a Chinese identity.
Now it looks as if that program will spread outside the classroom, both in Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.
There are also signs it will be exported beyond China's borders, with provisions in the draft law targeting "Chinese overseas" -- including the 23 million residents of democratic Taiwan -- and requiring internet platforms to provide patriotic education to users.
Internet service providers will be required to produce and spread patriotic content, using technologically innovative approaches, the China Daily said.
Seeking Mao-like scope
China already has a highly sophisticated set of blocks, controls, filters and online surveillance that strictly controls what its citizens are able to do or see online, known as the Great Firewall, as well as a nationwide "public opinion management" operation under the Central Propaganda Department.
People in China frequently challenge those in power, despite pervasive surveillance, a "grid" system of law enforcement at the neighborhood level and targeted "stability maintenance" system aimed at controlling critics of the government before they take action.
Students of Wuhan University attend a graduation ceremony in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province on June 20, 2023. Credit: AFP
Hu, the commentator, said the current government has tried but failed to achieve the sheer reach of party propaganda seen in China under late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
"They are bringing in patriotism to supplement [communist ideology], hoping to strengthen their ideological control over young people," he said.
Wu Chien-chung, secretary-general of Taiwan's Strategy and Public Research Institute, said the law, if passed, will be a world first.
"This is the first patriotic education law in the world," Wu told Radio Free Asia in a recent interview. "Clearly things have reached the point for the Chinese Communist Party where legislation is needed to maintain national unity."
Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.