L awmakers have introduced an amendment to China’s civil code ruling that defamation of “heroes and martyrs” is a civic offence, raising concerns that the Communist Party (CCP) is further tightening its grip on civil liberties.
The amendment rules that “encroaching upon the... honour of heroes and martyrs harms the public interest, and should bear civil liability". Critics suggest it is an attempt to monopolise historical narratives, which the CCP has long used to shore up its legitimacy.
It was proposed on March 12 at the annual National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), collectively known as the “two sessions”, where members of Parliament and advisors to the government meet to set their political and economic agenda.
The regime's crackdown on freedom of expression has hardened under President Xi Jinping. He came to power in 2012 promising to promote “the China dream” and has since tried to stop Western ideas and culture spreading among young Chinese people after three decades of economic liberalisation.
This week, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that Chinese publishers had been ordered to slash the number of foreign picture books being printed, targetting the likes of Peppa Pig and Winnie the Pooh. And in January, the ‘Great Firewall of China’ was fortified as the government tackled Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, which previously allowed Internet users to circumvent state-imposed restrictions on Google, Facebook and other international websites.
Many observers see this attempt to balance cultural protectionism, expansionist foreign policy and an open economy as a contradiction at the heart of the People’s Republic.
Resistance is growing, and the CCP came under fire this week when members of the government advisory body challenged Mr. Xi’s restrictive edicts. Two proposals tabled by state-sanctioned opposition parties called for greater freedom of Internet use on the mainland, blaming broad brush censorship for harming economic growth and stifling scientific and cultural innovation.
Neither proposal was reported in the mainland Chinese media.