BEIJING Lawmakers on Sunday introduced amendments to China's nascent civil code to make defaming "heroes and martyrs" of the ruling Communist Party a civil offence, as the leadership moves to strengthen its grasp on the history of the People's Republic.
China's ongoing National People's Congress (NPC), an annual meeting of some 3,000 delegates, is currently debating general rules for a civil code. The rules are expected to be passed by the event's close this Wednesday.
Delegates made 126 changes to the most recent draft of the rules, released on March 8, which will serve as a preamble to the final code, expected in 2020, state media said.
One addition is the line: "Encroaching upon the name, portrait, reputation and honour of heroes and martyrs harms the public interest, and should bear civil liability."
The deeds of revolutionary heroes and sacrifices of military martyrs are central to the Party's legitimacy, much of which is based on claims of great historic achievements, such as defeating Japan during World War Two.
Academics who offer different interpretations of history which downplay the role of the Party and its heroes are labelled "historical nihilists".
Chinese president Xi Jinping has emphasized the need for the party to have faith in its own version of history, pointing to the Soviet Union's collapse as a warning to cadres about what happens if revolutionary leaders are denounced.
The Party warned last year that a flood of online information is causing people to doubt the party and urged that the party do more to rebut "wrong" points of view.
"In modern life, some people use distorted facts and discrediting libel to maliciously slander and insult the honour and reputation of heroes and martyrs... the social impact is very bad, rules should be imposed in response," the NPC's legal committee said on Sunday, according to a report on Monday by the official Xinhua News Agency.
Lawmakers also on Sunday amended the previous draft so that the age at which a child is considered to be capable of civil actions is now 8 years old instead of 6 years old and moved to further protect "good Samaritans" who help in an emergency from liability if they accidentally cause harm.
The ongoing compilation of the civil code, which will form the basis of all China's future private law once passed, is seen by some legal reformers as a test of how far China will go in allowing civil liberties that might impinge upon state power.
Lawyers have said that previous drafts of the preamble fail to make significant progress on protecting individuals from state encroachment for long-standing issues like property rights and the right to personal freedoms.
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)