Article 5 of the Chinese Constitution regulates that China is to be a country ruled by law, and ever since that amendment took place in 1999, the country’s legal apparatus have stepped up enacting laws and regulations. Chinese law is now well-established, and this means that you’re in the country, just like in any other country, the laws will rule on what you can or cannot do.
In this As-Is Guide, one of the most important, yet most oft-ignored (or rather, oft-neglected) rules is the public order law. Fully known as the Public Order Management Penalties Law, this law governs what’s OK and not in a public place.
This law only comes into effect if your offence is not a crime. If you’ve done something criminal, it’s straight to the law books a la China’s Criminal Law.
Where the Public Order Law Comes Into Play
You can be prosecuted under Chinese public order law if you are inside China.
This law will also take effect if you are inside a Chinese representation overseas, as is the case internationally.
This law will also apply onboard a PRC ship or airplane. (There can be special exceptions, though.)
What the Police Can Order You (and When)
You can be warned by police, be fined, be detained (administrative detention) or be stripped of a licence issued by the police. The maximum you can be fined is RMB 5,000. The maximum number of days you can be detained for is 15 days for one offence, or a total of 20 days for more than one offence.
If you are a foreign national, you can also be deported, either with a time limit imposed or with immediate force.
If you are under 14, you yourself will not be punished, but your parents will be ordered to educate you. You will be liable for legal prosecution if you are aged between 14 and 18, but your punishment is lightly to be mitigated (or reduced altogether).
If you are mentally ill, you yourself will not be punished if you were ill then, but your guardian will be told to educate you.
If you are blind or deaf-mute, you might be punished less or not be punished at all.
If you are drunk, you will be prosecuted.
These are offences you might not be aware of. (They do not include more “serious” offences, which of course include anything to do with drugs, crossing borders illegally, or gambling, which is banned on mainland China.)
Disrupting Public Order
It is against the law to disrupt public order. You can be warned, fined (up to RMB 500), or detained (up to 10 days) if you disrupt order:—
- at government organs, social clubs, companies, to extents where normal work, production, business, healthcare, educational or academic activities cannot continue as normal, but where there were no serious losses;
- at stations, ports, docks, airports, shopping centres, parks, exhibition centres, or other public places;
- on buses, trolley buses, trains, boats, ships, airplanes, or other means of public transport
- by forcing your way onto cars, boats, airplanes and other means of transport, or illegally stopping them, so that normal operation is interrupted;
- at legally held elections
You can be punished with heavier sanctions if this was done by a gang and you were actively involved.
It is also illegal to, at cultural, sports or other mass events, disrupt public order by:—
- forcing your way into an event;
- illegally setting off fireworks or firecrackers, or the like;
- displaying insulting slogans;
- surrounding referees, athletes, or members of staff;
- throw anything into, or at, an event, and continue to do so even after being warned;
- resorting to any other acts to disrupt order
Hooliganism is illegal and can result in a 12-month ban. If you are caught flaunting this ban, you will simply be escorted out of the event.
It is also illegal to disrupt public order by:—
- spreading rumours, lie about dangerous events, or to disrupt public order in other means;
- placing bogus explosives, dangerous, radioactive or corrosive items or communicable diseases (“threaten with bogus threats”);
- threaten arson, explosion, or the placing of dangerous items so to obstruct public order
China views public aggression negatively. Any of these offences can cost up to RMB 1,000 in fines and may get you detained up to 15 days. These include offences:—
- of fighting in public;
- of chasing or blocking others in public;
- of taking or destroying property (public or private) by force;
- or of any other offences where you “seek trouble” (note that in China, this can have a pretty wide interpretation!)
If you are caught in organising, propagating, enticing or inciting a cult (including a particular cult of infamy the rest of the world knows about — that one which starts with F…) — or get caught in threats where a cult (or “that cult”) is involved, that’s a fine of up to RMB 1,000 or 15 days in detention. The same penalties apply for “feudal superstition” or the like that end up compromising social order or threatening people’s health, as well as anything bad for health that is done by those “in the name of” religion or qigong — in other words, if anyone does something in the name of qigong that’s actually bad for your body, that’s against the law.
It is an offence to interfere with wireless (this is more in the case of “ham radios” of especially powerful transmitters than with wifi networks). You can be punished with 15 days of detention, maximum, if the government finds out about your violation and you fail to correct.
Hacking is against the law, as is the case of creating viruses or the like. This can land you detention of up to 10 days.
These are just a selection of what public order law prohibits in China. It is up to you to ensure you remain “within the law”.