Chinese Celebrity Jailed For Funny Rendition of National Anthem, Why Freedom Of Speech Matters [Opinion]

If you ever wondered what Chinese comedy was like, just imagine an internet celebrity singing a funny rendition of the Chinese national anthem. Imagine the Chinese celebrity wearing a furry headband with antlers. As she sings “March of the Volunteers,” she waves her arms about like a confused orchestra conductor.

While it seems funny, the Chinese government has weighed in to make it absolutely clear that such a demonstration on a live video channel is most certainly not funny. In fact, it’s a crime.

The New York Times provides digs into the matter.

“It seemed to be a lighthearted moment. But the police in China saw it differently. The woman, Yang Kaili, 20, a Chinese live-streaming star with tens of millions of followers, was detained for five days for singing the national anthem in a “disrespectful” manner while broadcasting live.

In a statement posted over the weekend on the microblogging platform Weibo, the police in the Jing’an district of Shanghai described Ms. Yang’s behavior as “an insult to the dignity of the national anthem which repelled internet users.”

Despite the statement given by the police in the Jing’an district of Shanghai, it is unverified that any Chinese citizens were actually offended by Yang’s lighthearted moment. But the Chinese state was deeply offended. And that is a concept Americans have a hard time understanding.

US prisons could not contain the inmates were people arrested for non-serious renditions of the national anthem, or insulting the president, or protesting Supreme Court nominations, or any other irreverent speech belittling religion, politics, or powerful figures.

Americans are generally irreverent. We take very little seriously, and our most beloved heroes, less so. We laugh at ourselves, along with everyone else. This is why there is such a disconnect when understanding the mindset of a government that jails people for mildly poking fun.

Freedom of speech is not a universal idea. And censorship is a common means of shielding citizens from offensive or subversive ideas. These are the types of issues Google faces when considering creating a search engine tailored to the censorship needs of China. This article, or reports about the incident would not be accessible to the Chinese people.

It is very difficult to change a system and correct the wrongs when it is illegal to discuss and debate it. China perpetuates the illusion that everyone is in agreement by forcing offenders to make statements such as the one offered by Yang.

The 20 year old made obsequious apologies for her “stupid, low-level mistakes.” Her statement reads like something a hostage would say at gunpoint. This is China, where iPhones and PCs are produced.

Ms. Yang will be “voluntarily” giving up her social media business and will be diligently studying the relevant laws like the one she ran afoul. Part of her penance will be to submit to watching patriotic propaganda films.

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