Their Flag Burnings And Ours

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary In Hong Kong, an old farmer named Zhu Rongchang was sentenced to three weeks for burning the flag of China. Zhu, age 74, burnt the Chinese flag in protest over human rights in China. Since Hong Kong came under Chinese rule in 1997, it has been illegal to burn the Chinese flag for any reason. Two others had been tried for destroying the Chinese flag in Hong Kong, but they received suspended sentences. Zhu is the first to get any sentence for destroying the Chinese flag. He was lucky. The law actually calls for someone to be sentenced for as long as three years for desecrating the Chinese flag. The sad story here is that Hong Kong’s freedoms are being diminished every year by the Chinese government. The other sad part of this story is that there seems to be no real justice in Hong Kong for acts that in the United States would be considered freedom of speech.

As much as I am against flag burning, and certainly against anyone burning the American flag (I have seen more than my fair share of the burning of the American flag overseas. None in America), I realize that it is a part of freedom of speech. It is in my opinion a VERY unpopular act of freedom of speech, but one nonetheless. This has been ruled to be the case time and again by the U.S. Supreme Court. Personally, anyone who dares to burn an American flag on my property I would punch their lights out. In my entire life I have never seen anyone do this in the United States, and I am happy that is the case as it shows a lot more respect for the American flag than many politicians give credit for. It is not just the flag but what it represents that make most Americans like me proud to be living under this flag. It means freedom to destroy it or to display it proudly.

The most important thing behind the American flag is that there is no state sanctioned force, no coercion for people to respect the American flag. Maybe social pressure at most, but no laws that say you must respect it “or else,” and no political machinery that can and will jail you for burning the American flag. This is not the same in China and a number of other countries where any flag desecration can and is punished. As bad as Zhu’s punishment was, in China the punishment could have been many more years and maybe even the death penalty. The symbolism from this story could not be more clear. Since there is no real punishment for the American flag it is a true representation of democracy while the flag of China is a clear representation of totalitarian control. And in that context the two flags could not be more different. This is why I get extremely upset when someone burns the American flag—-you burn and torch freedom however imperfect it is.

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