Hong Kong is an experiment in what happens when a modern pluralist society is taken over by a Leninist-Confucian dictatorship. The results so far range from injustice to idiocy to irony – and now along comes the imposition of a Mainland law on the national anthem.
It seems Beijing is insisting that the local legislation mimic the Mainland statute by including political blather about enhancing the ‘sense of nation’ in the preamble, and by requiring schools to teach the anthem without imposing a penalty for non-compliance. This degrades common-law principles – though in the grand scheme of creeping totalitarianism, it’s no biggie.
Then there are the practicalities of proscribing ‘disrespect’ for the tune by law, such as the notorious sitting-and-eating-noodles-when-the-anthem-is-on-TV dilemma. Officials seem to suggest it depends on intent, or whether you have malice and evil lurking within your heart: if you don’t – no problem. Fortunately, the police have been issued with malice-and-evil-detection heart probes.
Not least is freedom of expression. Traditionally in Hong Kong, you can rewrite the words to any damn tune you feel like. Yet the government says that anyone who ‘publicly and wilfully alters’ the lyrics or score of March of the Volunteers could get a HK$50,000 fine and three years in prison. (By comparison, careless driving gets you HK$5,000/six months.)
So if you play the tune in a 3:4 time signature, thus turning it into a waltz (and arguably vastly improving it as a piece of music), you go to prison? For changing ‘Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!’ into ‘Arise, ye who refuse to be mice!’ you get a HK$50,000 fine? What if you completely change the tune and change the lyrics to such an extent that only the word ‘Arise’ remains, as with a Peter Tosh work?
David Webb notes that the lyrics have already been altered – another version called for ‘liberty and true democracy’. Expect an extra HK$50,000 and 10 years in a re-education camp for singing this one.
This new law is supposed to convince the undecideds and reluctant to become devout patriots. More likely, it will be a juicy invitation to Hong Kong’s creative and subversive hordes to mutilate, mash-up and mock March of the Volunteers without mercy. Already, wicked compulsive thoughts are flooding into my mind about putting a choral rendition of the tune through a pitch and tempo converter to make it sound like chipmunks.
Another dazzling Communist Party ‘soft power’ victory.