China passed a law on Friday making it a crime to attack revolutionary heroes and martyrs as the ruling Communist Party steps up efforts to police historical discussions and enforce ideology.
The new law bans criticism or questioning of the folklore surrounding the 1949 formation of the People’s Republic by Communist revolutionaries, and also prohibits acts that glorify historical episodes considered unpatriotic, such as Japan’s 20th century invasion of China.
The notice on the law’s passage did not specify penalties but said violators would be pursued by the authorities.
Since taking power in 2012, President Xi Jinping has called for tighter ideological discipline across society and enhanced patriotic education. Academics who criticized Mao Zedong have been silenced or sacked, while propaganda authorities have rolled out a series of polished media campaigns reminding citizens of the party’s historical accomplishments.
Dissident intellectuals say the measures further constrict the space for open discussion about China’s history, leaving the party line irreproachable by default.
Stories detailing Communist sacrifices against the Japanese make up significant parts of the party’s founding narrative, although outside historians question the party’s overall contribution to victory in 1945.
The “Heroes and Martyrs Protection Law” was foreshadowed in 2016, when a Beijing court ordered a historian to apologize for two essays that questioned whether the story of the “Five Heroes of Langya Mountain” Communist soldiers who leapt to their death from a mountain peak instead of surrendering to Japanese troops really took place.
The liberal journal that published the article, Yanhuang Chunqiu, was effectively shuttered by authorities that year.
Earlier this week, a flurry of state media reports endorsing the proposal presaged its passage. The state-run Legal Daily quoted a lawmaker, Liu Xiuwen, as saying that the law embodied the spirit of Xi’s “new era” thinking to bring about Chinese historical rejuvenation.