CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Is booing the national anthem really a mortal sin?

HONG KONG (SE): As the Hong Kong Football Association is being fined for a second time over the behaviour of some fans during the playing of the Chinese national anthem prior to international soccer matches in the city, an evening seminar organised by three Church groups on December 14 said it does not believe that people are booing the country of China itself, but rather its system of governance.
While it remains obscure as to under exactly what rule the Asian Football Confederation is able to levy fines on the local body for the boisterous behaviour of a few of its fans, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, from the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong, told the 70 or so people at the Church gathering that what is going on runs far deeper than the rumblings of a few.
A gathering held at St. Vincent’s parish in Wong Tai Sin in December 14 heard Father Stephen Chan Mun-hung describe the booing as simply people showing their feelings rather than attending the game in a restrained manner, pointing out that while their sin may be a matter of etiquette, it is certainly not a matter of moral law.
Nevertheless, the Franciscan priest pointed out that there are four points about governance in China that the Church cannot stomach; two of which are the lack of participation by the people in decision-making and the inequality of status between Communist Party leaders and the masses.
In addition, Father Chan says the manner in which Beijing is asserting its influence over Hong Kong has become high-handed and arbitrary, and he believes the legal system is being manipulated and used against politicians who oppose the Beijing way.
He stressed that he believes that it is the government that needs to change, not the people who express disapproval of the manner in which it is governing.
But mostly, Father Chan says that the Church can never give an imprimatur to any authority that governs primarily for its own benefit, or worse the party in power, as it believes that governing for the benefit of the people is a non-negotiable.
But either way, he believes that it is only going to lead to an ongoing game of chess, as whatever move the government makes the people are sufficiently creative to find new ways of expressing their opinions, even when one avenue is blocked off.
Cheung said that he believes the proposed legislation on the national anthem is being used as a litmus test on weather Beijing can uphold the One Country Two Systems principle or not.
But it becomes problematic in that the bases of law in Hong Kong and China differ radically, as under the Hong Kong system it is not usual to stipulate what people should do, but rather what they should not do.
It becomes even more difficult when it comes to making judgements about the sentiment in people’s hearts, as respect and disrespect are not easily proven from people’s expression or action and are consequently difficult to discern one way or the other.
Cheung believes that the end result would only be sporadic or selective enforcement of the law, which is an invitation to at least some degree of corruption.
He said that one fundamental thing for Hong Kong is that it must not embrace the Communist way of education seen on the mainland, where law is used to control the expression of the ideology, as is evident from the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, which is not consistent with the constitutional regime and education system in Hong Kong.
Cheung pointed out that legislation in China is formulated in such a way as to implement the core values of Communism and, since that is not applicable in Hong Kong under the One Country Two Systems principle, it would have no place in the law of the special administrative region.
As an example, he pointed to the mainland demand that people be upstanding before the raising of the national flag, but this is not included in the Hong Kong version of the ordinance.
Cheung said that how the national anthem law is formulated in Hong Kong is highly serious and should be monitored carefully, as it could introduce a new principle into the manner in which Hong Kong is governed and is indeed a good reason to raise a red flag.
The March of the Volunteers, which was adopted as the anthem of the People’s Republic of China for Proclamation Day on 1 October 1949, is a dramatic poem composed by playwright, Tian Han, in 1934 that was later set to music by composer, Nie Er, as a theme song for the movie, Children of Troubled Times, which portrays the long and bitter struggle of the people against the Japanese.
But Tian was arrested during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, charged with offending the Party and finally dying under torture.
The anthem was only played without the words during these years, before making a comeback in 1976, but with slightly altered wording. Then in 1982, the original version was adopted again, as the political system began to open up a bit.
But why China chose an anti-invasion rallying call as its anthem was questioned at the seminar by Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, a lecturer in journalism at the Baptist University of Hong Kong.
At a symposium held at the Vatican on December 13, Father Bernardo Cervellera, from AsiaNews, suggested that governments of newly formed states, especially those like China with a great ethnic and cultural diversity, often flog things like the national anthem in order to inspire nationalism as a galvanising thread in society and Lui suggested that the record of the Communist Party in resisting the Japanese could well be the rallying call.
But he then queried, “What kind of nationalism is it in this case?”
However, he stressed that nationalism cannot be used to absolve the government from its blunders and no amount of nationalism can change the fact that the removal of low-end workers from Beijing is contrary to governance for the people.
However, it is in education that that the attitudes of the young begin to form and Cheung Yui-fai, from the Professional Teachers Union, said that while Beijing is urging schools in Hong Kong to include it in the syllabus, that decision really belongs with the education sector.
He said that as a teacher, he does not welcome the involvement of either the Legislative Council or the legal system in drawing up any syllabus.
In all events, Cheung pointed out that the matter is already included in liberal studies, which looks at the history of the March of the Volunteers and encourages love of country.
However, he said he has little faith in the Education Bureau to review any history course, as even on its website it omits one important part of the story by failing to mention the persecution of Tian and even the website of the Chinese government only gives a brief mention to the episode where words were changed.
Cheung called this self-censorship on the part of the auyhorities, as it is hiding the truth rather than exposing what really happened in an effort to make China look good in the eyes of the world.
Cheung stressed that we do not have to go any further than the response of Hong Kong people to the earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 or the Olympic Games in Beijing to judge the level of love of country, as patriotism was then on display for all to see without the help of any education system or legal prompt.
The National People’s Congress added a national anthem law to Annex III of the Basic Law on November 4 and Hong Kong is now in the process drafting laws for its enforcement.
While booing the national anthem is in God’s eyes not a mortal sin, it may be in the eyes of those who wield power in the city and all hell could break loose if a case is ever brought to court.

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