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Yang Kaili, a 21-year-old internet celebrity who once had 44 million followers on one social media account, “insulted” the national anthem while broadcasting on the Huya live-streaming platform. She was placed in detention for five days. Photo: TikTok

Letters | Where would Hong Kong’s new national anthem law leave the art of satire?

Bernard Chan, in his article on the benignity of the proposed national anthem law on February 15 (“ Hong Kong anthem law almost impossible to violate – unless you want to”), seems to have forgotten, or perhaps deliberately excluded, that most important social and political weapon: satire. Does “insult” in the proposed law’s wording include all and any satire of the anthem? One fears it does.

Yet, the anthem’s naively stirring tune and revivalist words invite fun-poking. Almost all national anthems are the same. To pick some phrases at random: “God save our gracious Queen” – why, and why should she happily and gloriously be sent “victorious”? “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave” – whose freedom, whose home, what sort of bravery as we “build the wall”? “Aux armes, citoyens (To arms, citizens)” – really, why?

Fetishising national anthems is one of the more infantile of the malign bequests of late 18th and 19th century European nationalism. It’s interesting that Mr Chan thinks that’s absolutely OK, and that satire directed at the national anthem’s sententiousness has no place.

An assured self-confidence can smile at a brickbat or three, which is why most better-run states do not punish mockery of their totems. In Justice William Brennan’s trenchant phrasing in the landmark 1990 case against burning the American flag in public: “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable (Texas vs Johnson, 1989).”

The message of Hong Kong’s proposed law is therefore manifest.

Best no one plays Damon Albarn or Holger Czukay’s versions of the March of the Volunteers too loudly, let alone get caught watching Yang Kaili’s 10-second YouTube video on their mobile phone on the MTR. 

Stephen Davies, Tai Hang