Junius Ho explains why the bill is vital in educating the public about being respectful to the national anthem
The National Anthem Bill has entered the final stage of deliberation after a long period of consultation and discussion. Gazetted on Jan 11, the bill was officially submitted to the Legislative Council for the first and second readings on the Jan 23 of the same month. It is encouraging to see the legislative process is becoming smoother. However, the fact that a small group of people in the community have come out to oppose and spread rumors about the bill – in an attempt to discredit its original intent – is both bewildering and revolting.
The legislation is only intended to install among the general public a respect for the national anthem, to defend the anthem and national dignity. Contrary to what the opposition camp alleges, there is no ulterior motive behind the legislation and therefore no cause for public concern. From my point of view, the anthem legislation will not cause any harm. It is of great significance to our city if we can maintain national dignity and enhance a sense of national identity among Hong Kong residents.
The proposed law emphasizes on education rather than punishment, and is lenient in general ... Only willful insults to the national anthem will constitute a violation
Some people made a big fuss when the bill was submitted to the Legislative Council for deliberation. Activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung and his supporters published an article in the Washington Post, describing the lyrics of the national anthem as narration of a communist revolution. Their comments were not short of vilification, such as that the bill “forcefully imposes Chinese nationalism” on Hong Kong people, and that the proposed law could “be abused”. What’s more, Wong and a couple of others, in an attempt to launch a protest, unlawfully broke into the east wing foreground of the government headquarters and erected a banner bearing a defiance message. Such ridiculous and reckless behavior must not be condoned.
The opposition camp’s anti-National-Anthem-Bill campaign not only distorts the facts, but also defies historical truth. The national anthem was born in the era of the World War II when the Chinese nation was on the verge of national subjugation, and when countless Hong Kong people scarified their lives to fend off foreign invasion. We and our motherland shared not only blood ties but also a bitter hatred against the same enemy. The courage, perseverance and solidarity embodied in the national anthem are also the spirit of Hong Kong people. The anthem constantly reminds us that everything we have now is hard-earned and inspires us to work hard for the country and our future.
The enactment of a national anthem law is a common practice in the world. The Western countries that the opposition camp reveres have different statutory requirements for their national anthems, with some being lax and others being strict. However, the core spirit is “respect”. Respecting the national anthem is not a difficult thing to do. I believe the vast majority of Hong Kong people agree attempts to vilify the bill are doomed.
The proposed law emphasizes on education rather than punishment, and is lenient in general. Not every clause will result in criminal conviction and the threshold for legal offences is high: Only willful insults to the national anthem will constitute a violation. The opposition camp is committed to find faults with the bill, coming up with extreme scenarios to frighten the public. For example, they claim that violation of the law is liable to a fine of HK$50,000 and imprisonment for three years. The fact is this is the maximum penalty and could be meted out only in extremely serious cases. Otherwise, the maximum sentence will not be invoked.
In fact, Hong Kong has already enacted a similar law called National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, whose penalties are similar to those proposed in the National Anthem Bill. Over the years, there have been only a few people convicted for violating the ordinance, and none of them was sentenced to three-year imprisonment. It shows that the relevant legal provisions are well thought-out and it is a fallacious argument to say that the public may inadvertently fall foul of the law.
It is stated clearly in the gazetted National Anthem Bill that the bill is to be enacted to “preserve the dignity of the national anthem, to regulate the playing and singing, the broadcast and the use of the national anthem, to enhance citizen awareness of the People’s Republic of China, and to promote patriotism”. The legislative intent of the National Anthem Bill is, besides educating the public, to use punitive provisions to deter people from disparaging the national anthem. The public should take a sensible and logical perspective on the bill as it is a necessary measure to safeguard the national anthem.
Respecting the national anthem is an important civic responsibility and is a reflection of national quality. Nowhere in the world will national anthem abusers be condoned. For instance, athletes from different countries honor each other and remain solemn when their own national anthem or that of the opponent team is being played during any major international events, such as the Olympic Games and the World Cup. There has been rarely a case of profanity against any national anthem. Hence, respecting a national anthem is a universal value and an embodiment of national quality.
Enacting the national anthem law bears much significance when it comes to educating the public about the right attitude toward the national anthem when it is played and sung. Arguments such as “incomprehensible”, “difficult to implement” cannot be legitimate reasons for opposing the passage of the bill. Any political attempt to discredit and obstruct the passage of the bill should be condemned. Everyone is obliged to safeguard the dignity of the national anthem. As a staunch supporter of the bill, I hope it can be passed as quickly as possible.
The author is a member of the Legislative Council. This is an excerpt translation of his Chinese article published earlier on Wen Wei Po.