Fashion that hurts. A look at China’s fragile hearts

Emotional offenses may soon be outlawed in Communist China. In September 2023, the legislature of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) suggested revisions to a law that, if passed, would permit the regime to impose fines and keep people in custody, who wear clothes that “hurt the nation’s feelings”. 

The National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee, which published the proposal on its website, is hoping to forbid garments and symbols regarded as “detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese nation” – verbiage typically to denote loyalty to China, or lack of. 

If approved, the amended law would outlaw people who “wear or force others to wear” offending items in public places — though the draft document failed to detail what type of garments might be criminalized. Those prosecuted could face government detention of up to 15 days and fines of 5,000 yuan (US$700). 

Besides, the draft amendment would ban “producing, disseminating, publicizing, and disseminating articles or remarks” thought to undermine China’s “spirit”. 

Moreover, the proposed amendment would forbid “insulting, slandering or otherwise infringing upon the names of local heroes and martyrs” as well as vandalism of their memorial statues.

The 2005 “Public Security Administration Punishment Law”, which primarily targets minor offenses, is being amended to make it more applicable to present social realities, according to the Communist propaganda mouthpiece, the Global Times newspaper, without further elaboration.

China’s authoritarian leaders have a long-standing track record of tightening the screws on what ordinary Chinese speak, read, see and even think, arguably achieving an almost complete domination over the private lives of the people they claim to represent. The past couple of years have also witnessed the CCP forcing churches to substitute displays of the Ten Commandments with authoritarian Xi Jinping’s version of the moral commandments.

In June 2023, China also banned a high-profile finance writer, Wu Xiaobo, and two of his peers from social media platform Weibo for remarking about the country’s stock market and unemployment rate, comments that “attacked and undermined” Chinese policy, as well as disseminated “negative and harmful information”. 

For all the CCP’s persecution of dissidents, saber-rattling and military pugilism both at home and abroad, this recent proposition to ban “offensive attire”, which came after a series of incidents involving Chinese citizens wearing traditional Japanese clothing, certainly raises eyebrows. For instance, a woman in Suzhou city was detained by police for donning a Japanese kimono; she was lambasted for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. 

There must be something in the air in Beijing that is causing this epidemic of thin skin among its political elites, especially Xi. 

Already, several legal scholars and bloggers have penned editorials and social media posts urging for the deletion of certain articles in the draft law. 

The scholars and commentators rallied their fellow citizens to provide their opinions on the draft, with around 39,000 people having done so via the website of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC). 

Not that the CCP would take its own people’s views into account when it crafts laws. After all, such public displays of consultation have long proven to be for “show purposes”, with the government’s original intent most likely a foregone conclusion. 

On Chinese social media, many alarmed citizens have voiced their fears on Chinese social media that the amendments could lead to increased censorship and arbitrary arrests. 

“Today they can prevent you from wearing certain clothes, tomorrow they can prevent you from speaking, then the day after they can prevent you from thinking,” one Weibo user posted. 

“Who confirms the ‘spirit of the Chinese nation’ and according to what procedure? Who recognizes the ‘feelings of the Chinese nation’ and according to what procedures?” Tong Zhiwei, a constitutional studies scholar at the East China University of Political Science and Law, articulated on his Weibo social media account.

“If the NPC Standing Committee adopts this article as it is now drafted, law enforcement and judicial work will inevitably lead to the practical consequences of arresting and convicting people according to the will of the chief, and there will be endless harm,” Tong elaborated. 

Other social media users have resorted to posting images of themselves reading George Orwell’s 1984 at night or making sarcastic remarks like, “Maybe we should say nothing and wear nothing, as anything else could lead to our arrest.” 

Given the ambiguity of the suggested draft law, ceteris paribus, any police officer on the street could be emboldened to arrest basically anyone wearing anything the officer did not approve of. Thus, this proposed ban would be excessively harsh for its apparent targeting of any kind of individual attire that might hurt the CCP’s diktats, which lately have become more anti-Western in their rhetoric. 

Undeniably, Beijing’s increasing paranoia and censorship have sent many local and foreign firms, investors and individuals packing. 

Additionally, foreign investors, and particularly those within the G7 countries (including the entire EU bloc as a non-enumerated member) have had to undergo a labyrinth of outbound investment controls imposed by the CCP that complicates due-diligence checks on Chinese investments.

Based on a September survey by the Bank of America that polled 222 global fund managers with US$616 billion in assets under management, China’s current real estate crisis has been undermining the country’s economy, sparking concerns among many global fund managers. Notably, the “avoid China” sentiment has become one of the main views among those who were surveyed, in anticipation of a further slump in China’s stock market.

Likewise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s yearly survey, published in March, revealed for the first time that most U.S. businesses did not regard China as one of their top three priority markets.

China’s worsening ties with other countries has not helped in wooing back foreign tourists to the country either. The CCP’s draconian COVID-19 lockdowns that brought China’s economy to its knees, its treatment of opponents to Hong Kong’s National Security Law and jailing of pro-democracy figures like Jimmy Lai, founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily news outlet, have eroded public trust and interest in China. 

For example, Australia has warned its citizens that a high degree of caution should be adopted in China, as authorities have detained foreigners on so-called national security grounds, with a danger of “arbitrary detention or harsh enforcement of local laws, including broadly defined National Security Laws”. 

Similarly, a U.S. travel advisory suggested rethinking travel to mainland China “due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws, including in relation to exit bans, and the risk of wrongful detentions”.

In the wake of all these developments, any couture censorship and fears of government detentions by the CCP would only add fuel to the fire, further denting the Chinese economy.

The CCP’s “cancel culture” approach to attire and demeanor is undoubtedly a product of its Marxist roots. Anti-communist group The Heritage Foundation correctly stated that cancel culture is the “enforcement mechanism” which Marxists employ to impose their ideologies onto others. 

Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, who co-founded Italy’s Communist Party in 1921, instructed other Marxists that culturally indoctrinating people into ditching their love for God, nation and family and encouraging them to struggle against who and what they perceived were their “oppressors” would be a way to achieve Karl Marx’s goal of eradicating the family, church, private property and the nation state. 

From the outset, Marxism required tyranny, force and deceit, with Marx explaining his stance in his essay “The Victory of the Counter-Revolution in Vienna,” where he wrote, “There is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.”

Crucially, Marx realized that he and other communists like factory owner Frederick Engels did not come from the proletarian class, but had come from the “bourgeoisie”. 

Nonetheless, with his inflated self-grandeur, Marx opined that he and his fellow communists, unlike other members of the bourgeois class, were a unique breed with the ability to lead the proletariat and overthrow the social order of his day. 

To accept Marxist leadership, working class people would have to view themselves as “victims” of the “bourgeoisie” in need of liberation. Marx, Engels, and their followers sought to leverage existing proletariat grievances and see all business owners as their exploitative oppressors. With a “common enemy”, the Marxists could easily manipulate their followers and do away with even the positive elements of society. 

The irony for the CCP, with roots firmly in Marxism–Leninism, is that, given Marxism’s origins in the West, ultimately its own existence in China could also offend Chinese “national feelings”. 

Photo credit: iStock/ K-Angle

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