October 1 was China’s “National Day,” their “4th of July.” There were dignified ceremonies in Tiananmen Square. Veterans of their War of Liberation attended. Youngsters in red kerchiefs (Young Pioneers) laid flowers. Some stores posted the national flag. There were fireworks, but they ended about 9:00 pm so as not to disturb people’s sleep.
October 1, 2017 was also the day that China's “National Anthem Law” came into force “…to ensure appropriate performance of the song.” Starting this month, “the anthem shall be sung at formal political gatherings, including the opening and closing of National People's Congress sessions, constitutional oath ceremonies, flag raising ceremonies, major celebrations, awards ceremonies, commemorations, national memorial day events, important diplomatic occasions, major sport events and other suitable occasions,” according to the law and as reported in the news here.
In addition, “it is now illegal to use the national anthem during funerals, ‘inappropriate’ private occasions, commercials or as background music in public places. Violators, including those who maliciously modify the lyrics, play or sing the national anthem in a distorted or disrespectful way, can be detained for up to 15 days, and even be held criminally liable.”
And “the song will be included in textbooks for primary and secondary schools, and people are encouraged to sing the national anthem on appropriate occasions to express patriotism.”
Just as our national anthem remembers an episode from our War of 1812, China’s “March of the Volunteers” was chosen in 1949 because it “encouraged Chinese soldiers and civilians during the Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression from 1931-1945.” It was revised in 1978 and reaffirmed as the national anthem in 1982.
The national emblem of China was already protected by a law effective in October 1, 1991. Their National Emblem consists of a design of Tian'anmen in its center illuminated by five stars and encircled by ears of grain and a cogwheel. The law directs many government agencies, from the military to the courts, to display this emblem.
So if China can have laws commanding behavior relative to its national anthem and symbols, why not the United States?
Simply, our two countries have laws reflecting different histories and different cultural values. China culture contains a central value for maintaining harmony. The United States values independence and religious freedom. And while the Chinese Constitution was modeled after the U.S. Constitution, the language is different and the resulting laws are also different.
When I first began teaching as a permit teacher in northern Kentucky in 1968, I taught under a superintendent who required all students to pledge allegiance and all teachers to lead the class in prayer. But even back then, he was in violation of the law.
Long before in 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that requiring public school students to salute the flag violated both the 14th Amendment due process provisions and infringed upon the students’ religious beliefs, thus violating the First Amendment. And schools could not define noncompliance as insubordination. That opinion further declared that “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
In the 1990s, a San Diego, California school district decided to still force students to stand silently during the Pledge of Allegiance or face detention. When faced with a federal lawsuit, and its obvious illegality, the district settled out of court and changed its policy.
It is unfortunate that public education does not provide enough background for students to understand their founding history. -That the U.S. is founded based on a freedom of religious belief. -That we will not force a person to put country before their god. -That those who do not believe in killing can serve as conscientious objectors. Nor do we teach the basics of semantics. -That the map or symbol is not the territory. -Or that a wife who loses her wedding ring down the garbage disposal is no longer married.
This close to Veteran’s Day, it is important to remember that our veterans fought not for a pattern of colored cloth or set of song lyrics, but for a society so structured that genuine freedom could be lived out in everyday life.