Chinese authorities launched a crackdown on Christian churches ahead of Christmas. According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, the authorities in the city of Wenzhou, in China’s wealthy eastern Zhejiang province, announced a ban on all “kitsch” Christmas celebrations in the city’s schools and kindergartens.
A university in northwestern China also banned Christmas celebrations on the school campus. According to Reuters, Xinhua reported that the measure was meant to curb the growing “obsession” with Western religious festivals and holidays. An official at Wenzhou city’s education bureau said the ban was due to concerns that the growing popularity of “foreign” holidays was eroding interest in China’s traditional and national holidays.
The authorities in the Zhejiang province have also intensified a year-long campaign against churches erecting crosses.
Provincial and city authorities pulled down crosses raised by Christian churches in the city of Wenzhou and other towns and cities in the Zhejiang province, accusing the churches of violating provincial building codes.
According to the Wall Street Journal, before the order to pull down the steeples and crosses, they dominated the skyline of the economically prosperous city of Wenzhou, which has an unusual concentration of churches and Christians in China.
The campaign against Wenzhou churches raising crosses and erecting steeples began last year when churches were told to turn off lights on their crosses at night. The authorities later escalated the order to a full ban on crosses, threatening to demolish church buildings that failed to comply.
Christians in Wenzhou and other parts of Zhejiang said that the authorities launched a campaign against churches in the province out of fear of the rapid growth of prosperous Christian communities in the relatively wealthy province. A statement by a local official quoted on Wednesday by a state-run newspaper affirmed the official policy of curbing “foreign holidays.”
“We had guidance on foreign holidays such as Christmas in the past, but this year marks the first time we issued a clearer notice.”
After local authorities pulled down a cross raised by a rural Christian church in Wenzhou, a local church official told the Associated Press that officials “keep a very close watch on us, and there is nothing we can do. The situation is not good, as any attempt to re-erect the cross will be stopped.”
The repressive action has led to protests that have turned violent. A pastor and a church member have been arrested in recent protests and, according to a Christian rights lawyer, they remain in police custody.
The state-owned Beijing News reported on Thursday that the Modern College of Northwest University in Xian announced a ban on Christmas celebrations, denouncing it as a “kitsch” celebration imparting foreign influence and culture that threatens China’s historical traditions.
The official microblog of one of the school’s Communist Party committees posted a message exhorting students to stop observing foreign holidays and to embrace China’s national and traditional holidays. The blog post criticized Chinese people who think that the “West is more developed than China, and that their holidays are more elegant than ours.”
“In recent years, more and more Chinese have started to attach importance to Western festivals. In their eyes, the West is more developed than China, and they think that their holidays are more elegant than ours, even that Western festivals are very fashionable and China’s traditional festivals are old fashioned.”
The school authorities reportedly forced students to watch films promoting Chinese culture and religion, including Confucianism. The authorities posted banners in the school campus calling on students to “strive to be outstanding sons and daughters of China, oppose kitsch Western holidays [and] resist the expansion of Western culture.”
A student said that they attended the screening of the propaganda films only because they were afraid that the school authorities would punish students who refused.
China has a rapidly growing Christian population, especially in the economically prosperous regions, with a high population of educated and westernized citizens. The number of Christians in China is officially estimated at about 25 million, but independent authorities believe it could be as high as 100 million.
Wenzhou, popularly called China’s Jerusalem, has a high population of Christians, with about half of the entire province’s churches, estimated at about 4,000. The rapid growth of Chinese Christian population has led to increased popularity of Christmas celebrations, especially in big cities where young, educated, and westernized Chinese, among whom U.S pop culture is fashionable, often adopt Western customs associated with Christmas celebration.
The officially atheist Chinese government has been putting pressure on churches and Christian leaders in the country, warning them against using the Christian faith to bring “foreign influence” and culture into the country. They have also advised Chinese Christian leaders to ensure that Chinese Christianity adapts to Chinese culture.
Observers interpret the concerns being expressed by the Communist Party authorities as reflecting fears that the spread of Christianity in the country could encourage the spread of Western democratic values and threaten the position of the Communist Party.
[Images: Wikimedia Commons]