SDescribing it as “the Western spiritual opium” and the “Festival of Shame,” China has cracked down on Christmas in recent years as the increasingly vocal nationalism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rejects any outside influence or ideas.
Christmas may not be traditional or officially recognized in China, but there are tens of millions of Christians around the country who celebrate the occasion while a large portion of the general public enjoys the festive rituals that are common in the whole world – whether shopping for gifts or going out with friends.
Yet under Xi Jinping’s leadership – and since relations with the United States deteriorated under President Donald Trump – Beijing has sought to downplay or exert control over Western culture or beliefs, and the celebrations. Christmas celebrations have been denounced on several occasions.
CCP advisories have banned party members, government agencies, and even universities from participating in festivities, while slogans urging citizens to boycott Christmas are common on social media platforms.
For example, in Hengyang City, Hunan Province, authorities said in December 2018 that any Christmas activities or sales that blocked the streets would be removed. Last December, a local government agency issued a letter warning CCP officials to avoid celebrating the occasion and instead promote traditional Chinese culture.
“Party members must observe the belief of communism and it is forbidden to blindly worship Western spiritual opium,” it read.
Under Xi, competition with the United States and its allies emboldened nationalists at home who have become more vocal in urging society to focus on Chinese culture.
While Christmas around the world is celebrated by non-Christians and is often seen as a cultural as well as a religious event, academics said the CCP is sensitive to China being open to foreign influence because it espouses nationalism. .
Rana Mitter, professor of modern Chinese history and politics at the University of Oxford, said Beijing was increasingly reluctant to allow “the free flow of what it sees as Western ideas.”
“This includes not only religious concepts, but also ideas of liberal democracy and constitutionalism,” he said. The independent.
Speaking at a national religious affairs conference this month, Xi referred to the “sinicization of religion,” a slogan demanding that all religions, faiths, rituals and practices align with culture. and Chinese society.
Since its introduction in 2015, the concept aims to bring Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and all other religions in China under the control of the CCP and in line with its tradition and ideology.
Xi told the conference that it was necessary to “develop a religious theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics, to work in accordance with the Party’s basic policy on religious affairs, and to uphold the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation “.
The Chinese government has faced global criticism and genocide accusations from countries, including the United States, for its treatment of the Uyghur population and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in northwest Xinjiang , where around one million people are believed to have been detained and subjected to abuses.
In contrast, it is estimated that there are a relatively small number of Christians living in China – around 38 million Protestants and 6 million Catholics – and although suffering from abuse related to their religious beliefs, they have not suffered. of similar targeted persecution.
“The government’s attitude towards Christians, as with other religions, is not necessarily against religion per se, but rather against religion’s potential to become a political force and an alternative to the CCP,” Xing said. Hang, associate professor at Brandeis University.
“The government’s policy is basically to ensure that churches place party and state above religion,” Xing said, adding that Christians may be subject to more scrutiny in the future. future due to growing Chinese nationalism.
It could also be affected by relations between China and the United States, which have deteriorated in recent years after trade disputes with Mr. Trump, arguments over the military presence in the Indo-Pacific and pressure on Beijing on human rights issues by the United States administration. President Joe Biden.
Some Chinese officials have tried to distract from Christmas in the country by instead encouraging people to celebrate the birthday of Mao Zedong, the former ruler and architect of modern China, born December 26, 1893 and died in the age of 82.
On Christmas Day 2019, just before the world took notice of the coronavirus pandemic, officials from Linyi, a city in Shandong Province, placed a cake with “Happy Birthday to Mao” at the foot of a statue. of Mao in Wangzishan Temple in Pingyi County.
And in Chinese schools, Christmas has been identified as one of the evils of a patriotic education campaign that places a strong emphasis on rejecting all things Western, according to Bitter winter, a magazine focused on religious freedom.
For example, it focuses on teaching students about the “century of humiliation” – a narrative of Chinese history between the 19e and the 20th century when China was “intimidated” by Western powers and Japan.
Although all Christmas celebrations in China this year may be curtailed by the Omicron outbreak, trees, lights and decorations can still be seen adorning public spaces and shopping malls in major cities, including Shanghai.
This year, a Weibo user questioned China’s cultural influence abroad and called for the promotion of domestic festivals such as the Spring and Mid-Autumn Festivals.
They asked: “Wouldn’t it be great that one day the influence of the Spring Festival could reach 1% or even slightly more than that of Christmas? ”
A Weibo article referring to “Jesus in the West” has gained a lot of popularity.
“His people once formed the allied forces of the Eight Powers and came to China not long ago to snatch our money, kill our compatriots and burn us,” we read. “Now, many Chinese have to spend money to celebrate this old man’s birthday. ”