China has adopted a new ‘Patriotic Education Law’.
The country’s national legislature passed the law on Tuesday to counter what it calls ‘historical nihilism’ and to safeguard national security.
“Historical nihilism” is a phrase used in China to describe public doubt and scepticism over the Chinese Communist Party’s description of past events.
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Set to take effect on 1 January, 2024, the law comes in the backdrop of President Xi Jinping continuing to tighten his grip on power as the country battles a slew of problems including high youth unemployment, a troubled real estate sector, domestic demand slumping, and an economic slowdown.
But what is the Patriotic Education Law? How will it work?
Let’s take a closer look:
What is it?
As per Xinhua, the law looks to advance a sense of patriotism in the nation.
- It covers areas such as
- National symbols
- Beauty of motherland
- National unity
- Ethnic solidarity
- National security
- Deeds of heroes and role models
“The law’s enactment provides a legal guarantee for patriotic education in the new era. It is of profound significance for the Chinese people to shore up the national spirit and forge a collective force to advance the building of a stronger China and realizing national rejuvenation,” the newspaper stated.
As per DW, the legislation was first heard by the national legislature in June 2023 and a draft version of the law was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in August.
Zhao Leji, China’s top lawmaker, said the law would help the country in “forging a mighty force” to build a “strong” nation, Xinhua reported.
How will it work?
Xinhua stated that ‘some people are at a loss about what patriotism is.
The law thus outlines the responsibilities for central and local government departments as well as schools and for families.
“While it is enacted to promote patriotism, the law stresses the need to be rational, inclusive and open-minded, open the country wider to the world and embrace other civilisations,” Xinhua said.
The law mandates that patriotic education respects the “history and cultural traditions of other countries and draws inspiration from all of human civilization’s outstanding achievements,” it added
“With the enactment of the Patriotic Education Law, the Chinese people will be able to better shore up the national spirit and forge a collective force toward building a stronger China and realizing national rejuvenation through a Chinese path to modernization,” Xinhua stated.
The law also has targeted measures for different groups of people, including government officials, employees, villagers and residents in special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau, as well as Taiwan, state-backed China Daily said.
As per The Economist, the law instructs families to “include love of the motherland” in education and also spells out penalties for insulting the flag or questioning “approved histories about Communist Party heroes.”
As per The China Project, Article 14 of the law spells out the incorporation of patriotic education content to “all levels and types of school” and “the entire course of school education” .
Meanwhile, Article 15 of the law targets “all types of school activity” – including visits to national patriotic education bases of which over 500 have been constructed since 1994.
Article 16 of the law targeting parents is novel.
“This new inclusion blurs the boundaries between public and private space as part of the CCP’s effort to control society from its basic building block — the family,” the website states.
As per the website, the law targets three main groups that the Chinese Communist Party fears – Chinese youth, cyberspace, and Chinese communities beyond the mainland.
Article 22 of the law targets “compatriots” from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese with the aim of “consciously preserving national and ethnic unity.”
“Although the implementation remains unclear, the ambition reveals Xi Jinping’s struggle to grapple with power beyond the mainland,” the website argues.
Hong Kong has welcomed the passing of the law.
It said in a statement, “The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government welcomes the adoption of the Patriotic Education Law of the People’s Republic of China at the 6th session of the Standing Committee of the 14th National People’s Congress.”
Article 30 of the law under “Implementation Measures” also requires ISPs to not only create and impart content that “embodies the spirit of patriotism” but also create “new technologies and products to vividly carry out patriotic education activities.”
Zhi Zhenfeng, a research fellow at the Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times the law “aims to combine and condense some scattered content about patriotic education in different laws and regulations and promote patriotic education in the new era with a systematic, standard and scientific legislation process”.
Zhi added that those who insult heroes and martyrs, and “the uncivilized behaviours that go against the principles and spirit of patriotism” will also be singled out for patriotic education.
Yang Heqing, a spokesperson from the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, told Global Times the law aims to “educate and guide citizens to consciously fulfill their obligations to maintain national unity and ethnic solidarity, safeguard national security, honor and interests, so as to ensure the long-term stability of the country.”
Yang said the law will increase the public’s sense of patriotism.
He added that the law will focus on “fully utilizing” the educational function of cultural relics, cultural heritage, various museums, memorial halls, and organizing folk cultural activities during traditional festivals.
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Experts say China has for long employed patriotic education as a tool.
As per DW, Beijing instituted a ‘mass indoctrination programme’ targeting youth after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
As The China Project website notes, “The Party turned to state-led nationalism to revive its popularity. The campaign, which gained full momentum in the fall of 1994, focused on re-educating the youths, who led the Tiananmen protests. It contained three broad goals: the institutionalization of patriotic education, the reforms in history education, and the construction of patriotic public monuments.”
The website added that the ploy was fruitful in giving rise to an entire cohort of outspoken patriots.
These youth, in contrast to their elders, never experienced the crises of the early PRC and also profited China’s ascent on the world stage and its booming economy.
The law comes in the backdrop of Xi continuing to consolidate power in China over the past few years.
A new piece in The New Yorker entitled China’s Age of Malaise on the reign of Xi and his impact notes, “At the age of seventy, Xi has removed term limits on his rule and eliminated even loyal opponents. He travels less than he used to, and reveals little of the emotion behind his thinking; there is no public ranting or tin-pot swagger. He moves so deliberately that he resembles a person underwater.”
The piece pointed out how Xi has in many ways reversed course from party leader’s Deng Xiaoping cry for ‘courageous experiments.’
“In the years before Xi rose to power, in 2012, some Party thinkers had pushed for political liberalization, but the leaders, who feared infighting and popular rebellion, chose stricter autocracy instead. Xi has proved stunningly harsh; though at first he urged young people to “dare to dream,” and gestured toward market-oriented reforms, he has abandoned Deng’s “courageous experiments” and ushered his country into a straitened new age,” the piece states.
The piece noted how Xi is subjecting industries after industries – health care, real estate and education – to disappearances and penalties.
“None of the targets showed any organized political intentions. The only visible pattern is that Xi and his loyalists appeared intent on snuffing out rival sources of authority,” the piece states.
It quotes a long-time observer of Beijing as saying that the president is essentially ‘Mao with money’.
It remains to be seen how far Xi will go – and conversely where China goes from here.
“For all of China’s ambitions to greatness, it faces a consuming struggle to restore the trust and vigor of its own people. The stagnation could pass, as it did for America in the nineteen-eighties, or it could deepen, as it did for the Soviet Union during the same years,” The New Yorker piece notes.
It quotes Joerg Wuttke, the president emeritus of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, as saying, “The twentieth century could have been the German century, but we screwed up—twice,” he said. “And the twenty-first century could have been the Chinese century, but they’re now running the risk this is not going to happen.”
An entrepreneur, speaking on the condition of anonymity, added, “Someone has to tell the Americans that the idea that China is going to overtake them is over. This guy has ended that game.”
Experts deride the legislation as an effort to brainwash the youth.
“More and more patriotism courses intended for brainwashing have become compulsory” a Chinese dissident affiliated to the non-profit China Deviants, which is based in London, told DW.
The dissident said such individuals would thus have a ‘strong hostility’ towards those trying to reform China.
Hung Chin-fu, a professor at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, added that the law is intended to make the youth “love Xi Jinping or love Xi Jinping’s ideology.”
Kathy Huang, a Chinese expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, added that the law “is an intentional and timely refocus given the current domestic environment in China.”
“In the face of challenging domestic and international situation, we see Xi Jinping taking greater measures for stability maintenance,” she stated.
“These efforts reveal Xi’s insecurities about China’s growth and his anxieties over the future of the party’s popularity,” Huang said.
A piece in OROF Online summed up the law thus, “In conflating national symbols with the CCP, the party is trying to shore up its legitimacy. The outreach to social institutions and organisations is possibly an attempt to garner widespread support for its policies in uncertain times, from both inside and outside the country.”
But the Global Times in an editorial defended the law thus: “Imagine if a government were to introduce legislation against drug dealing, who would feel the most frightened and troubled? The most likely answer would be drug dealers. In the case of China’s recent legislative push for the spirit of patriotism in the country, some forces have exposed themselves as those “drug dealers””.
“Any force that feels uncomfortable with China’s draft patriotic education law without raising any functionality issues can only prove that they are against the spirit of patriotism advocated by Chinese education. They feel targeted because this draft will hinder their efforts to discourage patriotism and threaten and challenge China’s security,” it argued.
Zhu Wei, vice director of the Communication Law Research Center at the China University of Political Science and Law, added, “It is justified for China now to propose a patriotic education law, which will further regulate education activities in the country. Some ill-intentioned forces hyped this legislation is a crush-down on different ideologies, which is their misunderstanding and an over-interpretation.”
With inputs from agencies