China's legislature has made insulting the national anthem an offense that could incur a three-year prison sentence. The move reflects President Xi Jinping's image as a patriotic leader.
China's legislature on Saturday amended the country's criminal law to include severe punishments for people who "seriously" disrespect the national anthem in public.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, which serves largely as a body to rubber stamp decisions by the ruling Communist Party, outlined penalities for such actions that include detention, imprisonment of up to three years and the deprivation of political rights.
Such punishments were previously meted out to those who desecrated the national flag and emblem in public, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The move comes as the anthem, "March of the Volunteers," has in recent months become a focus for political protest in the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong, where many object to Beijing's increasing efforts to impose its authority on the territory. The anthem has been booed by Hong Kong fans when played at games between the home team and teams from China or elsewhere.
The actions echo those that have been taking place over the past two years in the United States, where some professional athletes have sat or kneeled during the playing of the anthem at games to protest at racial inequality and police brutality. Some feel such demonstrations to be disrespectful of the US, its flag and its soldiers.
In apparent response to the Hong Kong protests, the Standing Committee also adopted a decision to extend a law passed in October that makes disrespect of the anthem punishable by up to 15 days detention to both Hong Kong and Macau, which both have separate legal systems.
That law, the National Anthem Law, also forbids playing the anthem on "improper" occasions, including at funerals. "Proper" occasions include political meetings, flag-raising ceremonies, major diplomatic events and large sports events.
The decisions by the legislature come after President Xi Jinping was appointed to a second five-year term as party leader.
Xi, who espouses a vision of a "Chinese Dream" in which China grows in power and prosperity, has gained the image of a rigorous patriot who will go far to defend national dignity.
Critics say this approach often goes hand in hand with increasing repression of criticism and political dissent at home.
tj/rc (AP, dpa)