Hong Kong’s new anthem law: what you can and cannot do
- New law prohibits use of March of the Volunteers for commercial ends, parodies and significant alterations of the words and score
- Whether someone is in infraction of the law will often depend on the intent of the person in question
Hong Kong’s government has proposed a controversial bill to criminalise abuse of China’s national anthem. Any person who misuses March of the Volunteers for commercial advantage or publicly and intentionally insults the anthem could face fines of up to HK$50,000 (US$6,380) and three years in prison.
The bill has not spelt out every scenario of a possible offence. Here are some that might land people in trouble.
Can the creative industry and internet users create parodies of the national anthem?
Yes and no. Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said a song could be banned if it closely resembled the national anthem, insofar as the public might mistake it for the anthem.
As for songs that used short riffs mimicking the anthem, Nip saw no problem with a Cantonese pop song about the 1998 Fifa World Cup that incorporated a short tune “arise, arise” drawn from March of the Volunteers.
“But the most important thing is, the lyrics or score of the national anthem should not be altered as it is the symbol of the nation,” he added.
The intention also plays a significant role. A person commits an offence if he or she alters the lyrics or score with intent to insult the national anthem – to undermine the dignity of the national anthem as a symbol and sign of China, as defined in the bill.
Can parodies of the national anthem or video clips of soccer fans booing the national anthem be shared on the internet?
Yes and no, depending on the intent. A person commits an offence if they approvingly post parodies of the national anthem or clips of it being disrespected. Without such intent, it is safe for one to post or publish – to communicate to the public in any form – altered lyrics or score of the national anthem, and any insulting of the national anthem.
Will racegoers and customers in restaurants get into trouble for failing to stand solemnly when the national anthem is played?
No, the etiquette stated in the bill – to stand solemnly and deport themselves with dignity – is to be applied for people taking part in or attending the occasion, meaning diners next to the racecourse or stadium should feel free to continue their meals when the national anthem is played.
For racegoers and soccer fans, Nip said there are no penalties for those who fail to stand solemnly and breach the rules of etiquette.
How about soccer fans who boo at the national anthem at matches? Would they be in trouble?
Yes. Nip said: “Any insulting behaviour could face penalties … There are three conditions for one’s behaviour to constitute an offence, which is insulting and done publicly and intentionally.”
To play and sing the national anthem in a distorted or disrespectful way with intent to insult the national anthem could also land you in trouble.
Can protesters play the national anthem in a way to express their political views?
Yes and no. In recent years, some pro-Beijing groups have played the national anthem at protests to demonstrate their patriotism. The bill stated that the national anthem must not be used “as background music in a public place”, or at a private funeral event and a trademark or as a commercial advertisement. The clause came with no penalties and did not touch on other private occasions.
Nip said it was up to organisers to consider when it came to occasions not stated in the bill. However he asked: “Is a protest an appropriate occasion to play the national anthem?”
Additional reporting by Christy Leung