Restricting expression is common practice in China. Now the government is also planning to criminalize the wearing of clothing that hurts the “feelings of the people.” According to the draft law, someone could be fined or even jailed if they wear something that “harms the spirit of the Chinese people.”

Under a general law against causing trouble, China can already punish anyone who wears clothing or banners with controversial messages. The new law would also allow authorities to impose fines or even prison sentences on people whose clothing is said to violate morals.

It remains unclear in the draft law which items of clothing this is the case for. The respective definition would therefore be left to the authorities. Several lawyers in the country have already expressed concern about the draft law.

What could be considered offensive was shown in videos circulating on Chinese online networks earlier this month. They showed a man being questioned by police in the metropolis of Shenzhen because he had filmed himself wearing a skirt. Some Internet users defended the police action, arguing that the man’s behavior embarrassed others. On the Chinese platform Weibo, someone wrote: “This is hurtful to common morals.”

Lawyer Lao Dongyan from Tsinghua University warns that the draft law contains “an overly vague criminal law that opens the door to the arbitrary expansion of criminal prosecution.” Most citizens in Beijing interviewed by the AFP news agency expressed similar sentiments, but also said that the law was primarily aimed at preventing the wearing of Japanese clothing at historical dates or places.

In 2021, the pro-state tabloid “Global Times” reported on an incident in which a woman wore a kimono in public on Memorial Day for the victims of Japanese war crimes. Last year, another woman reported being arrested while wearing a kimono for a photo shoot in the city of Suzhou.

He, a 23-year-old from Beijing, speaks of “special circumstances” that justify restricting freedom of choice in clothing, such as “offensive” behavior in front of certain monuments or on certain days that is “100% intentional and must be punished.” However, from the young woman’s point of view, it is necessary to establish “carefully considered” criteria in the law. And the consultation period scheduled until September 30th might not be enough for that.

25-year-old programmer Yang Shuo also said: “If someone wears a kimono at the monument to the Nanjing massacre by the Japanese invaders, I think it will cause serious psychological damage to the Chinese people.” Such behavior must be punished.

“There are historical reasons and I think the feelings of the local people must be taken into account,” said 35-year-old Gu. However, in his opinion, in most cases it is not necessary to punish the wearing of clothing, for example “if someone wears a kimono while shopping.”

Jeremy Daum of the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale University expects the bill to be even more tailored to clothing that is seen as an irritant in national commemoration of historical events. “It’s pretty clear that the language will change a lot – after all the public comments. It will probably focus on heroes, martyrs and party history.”