In Hong Kong, Chinese soccer fans have been known to stand respectfully while the visiting team’s national anthem plays. When the Chinese anthem plays, however, they boo.
It got so bad that the Chinese government created a law making it illegal to be disrespectful during the national anthem. The penalty is three years in jail.
That’s how you earn respect, you force it on people.
Hong Kong was protected by British rule until 1997 when it was returned to China. However, the folks living in Hong Kong grew quite fond of western-style freedoms and weren’t all that happy to be rejoining Communist China.
Still, Chinese officials didn’t crack down too hard and Hong Kong residents began to accept the arrangement. Hong Kong remains a semi-autonomous city to this day, but Communist rule continues to chip away slowly at those freedoms.
The current protests of the Chinese national anthem started in 2014 during the Umbrella Movement, a series of pro-democracy street protests, drew the ire of national officials. The Umbrella Movement, you may remember, started when the Chinese government decided citizens of Hong Kong could no longer directly elect their representatives.
In 2013 I spent two weeks of vacation in China, most of it in Beijing. A friend there told me the secret to surviving in Beijing was to break all the rules. It sure seemed like they took that to heart. I saw a dozen people jaywalk across a busy street right in front of four sitting police officers. The officers looked bored, I’m not sure they noticed.
And let us not speak of their disdain for all traffic rules. Glad I wasn’t driving there.
It did not feel like a city lacking in freedoms. Still, there’s a long history of standing up to the government there and you will get stomped down. Hard.
Soccer fans don’t know what to do in Hong Kong with this new law. Enforcing it, of course, would be a nightmare. But, who wants to risk three years in jail just to boo the national anthem?
Patriotism cannot be forced any more than you can demand people show respect. Instead of fretting over who is booing or disrespecting the national anthem, perhaps it would be better to see what they are upset about and if they might have a point.
How can we address their concerns so they will feel the same patriotism the rest of us feel and want to stand quietly and perhaps even sing along to show how much they respect a nation?
Freedom of speech should allow for some disrespect, because by allowing a little, it makes the gesture even more meaningful for those who choose to show respect. No one doubts their motives. However, if you give everyone a choice of standing in unison quietly or spending three years in a cell we’ll never know who truly is showing respect.
Email Ken Sain at firstname.lastname@example.org.