The Public Security Bureau of Rong County, Sichuan Province, arrested (in Chinese) a woman on April 8 on the charge of “disorderly behavior” (寻衅滋事 xúnxìnzīshì). Her crime was uploading a video of herself fishing for snakes in immodest clothing while — and this is the crucial part — donning a red scarf (红领巾 hónglǐngjīn), which is widely cherished as a national symbol of the Young Pioneers.
The video has since been deleted and the perpetrator, a popular live-streamer on the short video app Kuaishou 快手 identified as Ms. Tang 唐, will be detained for 12 days and fined 1,000 yuan ($149). Her videographer, Mr. Wu 吴, was also admonished.
The Rong County police department warned people in a notice (in Chinese) that “the red scarf is an emblem of the Young Pioneers of China. It was dyed red by the blood of communist revolutionaries and represents one corner of the national flag of China.”
The announcement cites several articles from the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs, which prohibits the desecration and denial of the deeds and spirits of Chinese revolutionary heroes, and declares any behavior disrupting public order or infracting public security guidelines to be punishable by law.
The police department concluded with a warning for all citizens to behave in accordance with the law on the internet, or face severe punishment.
In an old article published in 2015, the New York Times notes the ambiguity in the wording “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” (寻衅滋事 xúnxìn zīshì), known colloquially as “pocket crime” (口袋罪 kǒudài zuì) for its seemingly all-encompassing scope of offenses. In many ways, this allows the Chinese government to more pervasively exercise control.
Social media reaction to the news was divided. While most comments on Sina (in Chinese) condemned Ms. Tang’s misdemeanor and approved of her punishment, Weibo (in Chinese) users raised concerns over the excessive, hypersensitive response to such trivial behavior.
Below are some comments from Sina in support of her punishment:
“Ay! Speechless, the number of morons keeps increasing.”
“It’s good that she’s getting a history lesson!”
“Symbolic items like the red scarf should not be used for (live-stream) profit. She’s not a kid anymore. The punishment is justified.”
“Don’t forget the origins of the red scarf! She should be punished!”
“When we were young, the red scarf symbolized good kids who are honest and hardworking. This red triangle must never be desecrated!”
On the other hand, many Weibo comments criticized the police’s response:
“‘Immodest clothing’? Are you expecting her to go fishing in her winter clothes?”
“Well we already know ‘picking quarrels and provoking troubles’ covers every behavior.”
“This is too much… is it really necessary to be this sensitive.”
“If we are not allowed to wear red scarves while fishing, can we wear it while climbing trees, riding bicycles or flying kites?”
“It’s 2019. Am I living in 1979?”
“So should we detain every kid that has ever fooled around while wearing their red scarf?”