China has one of the oldest legal traditions in the world.
However, its law codes are in a state of perpetual change. After all, if you’re running a massive communist country in the 21st century, feudal codes from the 10th century aren’t exactly relevant.
Given China’s size, it should come as no surprise that laws vary greatly throughout the country’s 23 provinces and five autonomous regions. Some of those laws are, well, absolutely insane.
We’re not picking on China, here; the United States certainly has its fair share of ridiculous prohibitions (for example, you can’t legally spit on public ground in Goodyear, Arizona). China’s strangest laws just seem especially bizarre due to our cultural differences…oh, and the whole “communism” thing.
For instance, we can’t imagine a situation in which a U.S. town would decree that…
1. Grown children must visit their parents.
In 2013, the BBC reported that China introduced a new Elderly Rights Law, which, among other things, required adult children to visit their aging parents.
The law actually serves an important social purpose, as it’s aimed at curtailing loneliness among the elderly. In China, family systems are extremely important, and the law essentially codifies an age-old practice (pardon the pun) of frequently visiting older family members.
However, it doesn’t say how often children should visit their folks, so it’s not an especially effective law. It’s more of an “educational message to the public,” according to Beijing attorney Zhang Yan Feng.
“If a case is brought to court on the basis of this law, I think it’ll probably end up in a peaceful settlement,” Zhang told the BBC . “But if no settlement is reached, technically speaking, court rulings can force the person to visit home certain times a month.”
The “Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People” law has nine clauses, which detail how adult children should care for the “spiritual needs of the elderly.”
2. Children must salute passing cars.
In China, traffic laws exist, but they’re not really enforced in most parts of the country. Most police spend their time responding to crimes and accidents, not preventing them.
That might sound like a libertarian fantasy, but it leads to some troubling trends, including high mortality rates for pedestrians. After all, in heavily populated areas, cars basically operate under the same rules as cars in Grand Theft Auto. That’s gradually changing, but not quickly enough: About 260,000 Chinese people a year suffer a fatal road accident, and most of those are pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
Education officials came up with a novel solution: Chinese children in some provinces are required to salute the cars. This gets them into the habit of stopping for traffic, and the drivers can see them more clearly.
Again, there’s no penalty for breaking the law (it’s really more of a rule), although you might be crushed by a moving vehicle if you choose to ignore this one. Still, it’s controversial. Some Chinese citizens would prefer actual enforcement of traffic laws, or at least the installation of a few speed bumps, instead of tasking children with their own survival.
3. State employees must visit an ancient village.
What do you do when your local tourist attraction isn’t doing enough business? You force government workers to start visiting said attraction. Simple, right?
A county in the Guizhou Province ordered its government offices to send visitors to an ancient village, hoping to artificially boost the attendance numbers and attract more real visitors. The county was hoping to report 5,000 visitors within the first two months of the policy, and The New York Times reports that the “involuntary visitors had to take several buses to get to a village 20 miles from the county seat.”
What’s more, this isn’t the only time bureaucrats have tried something like this; a county in the Hubei Province instituted another strange regulation, ordering its civil servants to buy specific local products.
State employees could lose their jobs if they didn’t comply. The goal was to help the local economy, but the policy was a miserable failure, and officials repealed the edict after a few weeks.
4. Male officials in certain parts of the country can’t hire female secretaries.
Established in 2003, this was a law in the Sichuan Province, and it appeared to only apply to government employees. Nevertheless, it’s a serious regulation that was apparently enforced throughout the province.
China Youth Daily reported that the purpose of the rule was to “ensure that work can be carried out,” apparently implying that men would be too distracted by their female secretaries to do anything other than repeatedly adjust their bowties, sweat profusely, and shout, “What a dame!”
Naturally, this law drew plenty of scrutiny in Western media—along with some scornful commentaries from Chinese sources. However, while there’s enough reportage to show that this regulation existed, a Communist Party official told The New York Times that it was never actually written into the legal code of the province.
We can only guess that this is because the person tasked with that job had a female secretary.
5. Until recently, families with more than one child were fined.
We really can’t write an article about strange Chinese laws without mentioning the infamous One Child Policy, a notoriously disastrous piece of legislation aimed at limiting the size of Chinese families.
We could write a full article about how this law backfired, but instead, we’ll just focus on some of the strange exceptions. For example, the law didn’t penalize families who had twins and other multiple births, so many families turned to IVF drugs to try to have multiple children without paying fines.
There was also an exception for families with disabled parents, so naturally, some families attempted to game the system by proving mental or physical disabilities that didn’t exist. Chinese people returning from abroad could have additional children, so some families tried to plan short trips for the explicit purpose of childbearing. Even so, parents with multiple children were often ostracized by their communities regardless of circumstances.
Eventually, the policy was relaxed: Chinese families can now have two children without facing fines. Nevertheless, this remains one of the most controversial laws ever written.
6. Where you were born will determine where you can live.
The hukou system is a government record of all citizens, and it’s been criticized by human rights groups as a form of apartheid.
Inspired by ancient Chinese customs, it basically creates castes throughout China’s various provinces. If your parents are born in a rural area, for example, you’ll live your life in the same rural area.
The goal of the law is to prevent farmers from migrating to the cities en masse and creating a food shortage, but in practice, it has exacerbated China’s social issues by preventing certain classes of people from obtaining an education or changing careers. The system is especially harsh towards heihaizi (literally translated as “black children”), the term for children born outside of the aforementioned One Child policy.
Fortunately, there’s a push against the hukou system, and several reforms have taken place in recent years. Hukou is controversial in China, and some high-ranking Communist Party members have pushed for total abolishment.
7. You can’t view any salacious content online.
The government of the People’s Republic of China carefully controls the media, and we don’t mean that they shout “fake news” at the local equivalent of CNN. We mean that there is no local equivalent to CNN, just as there’s no free internet.
Instead, Chinese citizens view a filtered version of the internet, free from any sort of sexual content; possession of adult material is punishable by three years in prison. For the companies that produce this, ahem, content, the punishments are even more severe.
Websites also load very slowly, thanks to the government’s controls, and emails are subject to direct censorship. In China, you can’t login to YouTube, Twitter, or other social media websites. You can’t use Google. You can’t even use many Android devices.
However, visitors can get around many of these restrictions by simply using a virtual private network (VPN) service for a few extra dollars per month. Note that this is also illegal; somewhere around 90 million users use VPNs, which is about 6.5 percent of its total population and 13 percent of its internet-using population.
8. Geese are allowed to function as police officers.
Okay, this one isn’t exactly a law, but it’s certainly a unique feature of the Chinese legal system, and since the last two entries were pretty heavy, we figured we’d end with some good, old-fashioned goose humor.
In some rural parts of the country, police use attack geese to protect properties and to bring down criminals. Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but we use dogs for the same purpose, and Chinese police say that geese are much more effective.
“Among all poultry, geese [are known] for being extremely vigilant and having excellent hearing,” police chief Zhang Quansheng told the New York Daily News. Of course, a person could make an argument that the police force is better without any poultry, but Quansheng seems to have moved past that phase of the discussion.
“Geese are very brave,” he continued. “They spread their wings and will attack any strangers entering [a person’s] home.”
We can think of another advantage: if food becomes scarce in the winter, police can always eat their deputies.