China's Parliament Considers Draft Law Protecting 'Honor' of Communist Heroes

Activists say the law is a further bid by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to prevent public challenges to its official version of history.

Chinese leaders' faces -- Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao -- are printed on a badge sold as a souvenir at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Aug. 1, 2017.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), is considering criminalizing anyone deemed to have smeared the “reputation and honor” of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s canon of heroes and martyrs, official media reported on Friday.

“Departments including public security, culture, press and cyberspace have a responsibility to protect the reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs in their supervision,” state news agency Xinhua quoted the text of a new draft law as saying.

The text suggests that officials are particularly concerned with online criticism, and perhaps satire, targeting the country’s revolutionary heroes.

The draft adds: “It is a duty of internet operators to timely handle online information that infringes on heroes and martyrs.”

A report on the draft law was heard by a session of the NPC standing committee on Friday.

If passed, the new law would ban the “illicit appropriation” of land and facilities near memorials of heroes and martyrs, as well as any damage to such memorials, Xinhua said.

"Those who appropriate, damage or contaminate memorials, and insult or slander heroes and martyrs, may receive administrative penalties from public security or even criminal sanctions," it quoted the draft law as saying.

Such protections would include the Monument to the People's Heroes in Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Square, which has previously formed a focal point for mass protests on the square, particularly during the 1980s.

The monolithic structure is referred to in the draft test as “a symbol of the spirit of the Chinese people and nation, and as such, its structure, name, inscriptions, patterns and signs should be protected by law,” it says.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Yu Wensheng told RFA that the law isn’t based on material facts, for example, an increase in vandalism and damage to such sites, however.

“Why do heroes and martyrs need protecting? I don’t think this is based in fact, and I don’t think a law specifically protecting heroes and martyrs is necessary,” Yu said.

“We already have laws that would be enough [to cover such behaviors], for example, laws governing reputational damage,” he said.

Protecting a ‘fake version of history’

Wang Aizhong a rights activist based in the southern province of Guangdong, said the real reason behind the law is to prevent ordinary people from openly casting doubts or aspersions on the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official version of history.

“I think there have been signs that this is coming for a while now,” Wang said. “They want to protect the Communist Party’s fake version of history that it has been peddling for several decades now.”

“That includes narratives of these so-called martyrs; they want to try to maintain their legitimacy,” he said.

Wang said the true history of the Communist Party has been one of usurping of political power, including the spreading of false historical narratives.

“They are worried that these lies will continue to be exposed, to the extent that doubts begin to be cast on their legitimacy as a government,” Wang said.

The Chinese Communist Party already retaliates harshly against anyone abusing late supreme leader Mao Zedong or his image, as this is held to represent an attack on the founding supreme leader of the People's Republic.

It also recently passed laws banning the “desecration or insults” to the national flag and other symbols of the Chinese state.

Three protesters — Yu Dongyue, Yu Zhijian, and Lu Decheng —  who helped splatter Mao's portrait with red paint during the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement all served lengthy prison sentences during which they were subjected to torture and ill treatment.

In August 2015, Bi Fujian, a popular TV host for China's state-run broadcaster CCTV lost his job after a private joke at the expense of late supreme leader Mao Zedong that was leaked online.

Bi "used ridicule to harm the image of the older generation of the Communist Party and the [late] state leader," the China Discipline Inspection Daily, a newspaper affiliated with the country's top graft watchdog, said in an article at the time.

In the video, Bi is shown at a private dinner with friends, singing a parody of the revolutionary model opera “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy,” one of just eight operas approved for public consumption by Mao's wife Jiang Qing during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.