China’s public is expressing concern about a potential legal change that would allow for fines and even jail time for people who offend the government’s sensibilities by wearing the wrong clothing.
The Standing Committee of the nation’s legislature recently released a draft of revisions to the law it is considering that would forbid a range of behavior including dress or speech “detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”
The lawmakers didn’t spell out exactly what kind of images or speech could get people sent to a detention center for up to 15 days or fined up to 5,000 yuan ($680). They have listed the law among their priorities for passage this year.
The draft law highlights how Chinese leader Xi Jinping has clamped down on civil liberties in the nation of some 1.4 billion people over his decade in power, including by stepping up internet censorship. Police in Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, detained a woman last year for wearing a kimono in public. China has a longstanding feud with Japan over its actions during World War II, a dispute that has recently been exacerbated by Tokyo’s decision to release treated wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.
Over the last year, authorities have also clamped down on people wearing shirts with rainbows at concerts and distributing flags on a university campus that had the pro-LGBTQ symbol on them.
Many people on Chinese social media expressed concern the proposed changes to the law may be going too far. One user of the Weibo social media site who goes by the handle Nalan lang yueyueyue asked how authorities would know when the nation’s feelings would be hurt.
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“Shouldn’t the spirit of Chinese nation be strong and resilient?” the person asked. “Why can it be easily damaged by a costume?”
Du Zhaoyong, who identifies himself as a lawyer on Weibo, said in a post that got 8,800 likes that the law would “definitely bring huge uncertainty and open wide the door of convenience to arbitrary and unauthorized punishment.”
Bloomberg News was unable to reach Du. The National People’s Congress did not immediately respond to a request for comment.