China’s state-run Global Times newspaper defended in a Sunday column widespread crackdowns on Christmas displays and public celebration of the Christian holiday, claiming Western media reporting on the matter had “gone too far” and police action was necessary to “regulate excessive commercialization.” These crackdowns transpired in at least four major cities.
“It may be the media’s natural instinct to exaggerate news stories to attract more eyeballs. But when it comes to Christmas in China, Western media have apparently gone too far,” the Global Times protested. “Western media seem to have declared that China is waging a war on Christmas at a whim. Native-born Chinese would find it laughable after reading their stories and say the China in their reports is a different nation from the one in which they’ve been living.”
The Times took particular offense at the response to news, reported initially in state media, that the city of Langfang had launched a campaign to eradicate Christmas from the public square, encouraging citizens to report any neighbors they witnessed celebrating Christmas in public. Langfang’s police also launched a crackdown on public displays such as Christmas trees, lights, and public sales of Christmas merchandise–apples, for example. It has become a Christmas tradition in China to exchange apples with words like “peace” written on them to celebrate the holiday.
Langfang reportedly launched this widespread action to erase Christmas from the public in an attempt to win the federal government’s “National Civilized City” award, which the Global Times described as the “highest honor to a city as it has strict standards in a variety of aspects, including the city’s social development, economy, infrastructure construction and public services.”
On Sunday, the Times identified apple sales and prayers as potential public nuisances the police had a right to curb.
“It is a routine for Chinese urban management authorities to manage roadside stalls and migrant vendors who often occupy bike lanes and even the motorway mostly without a legal business license,” the Times claimed. “This is not aimed at Christmas particularly.”
The Chinese government publication also claimed that keeping religious activity out of the public square was not only a police duty, but one commonly upheld in Western countries, comparing the French government shutting down a loud Islamic prayer session in the city of Orléans this year after public complaints with Chinese police urging citizens to report neighbors who appear to be celebrating Christmas.
The greater issue, the Global Times claimed, is not silencing Christmas, but “exploring how to regulate excessive commercialization of religions,” a goal allegedly “not targeted at Christians.”
“People do not reject Western culture in the real China,” the Times concludes. “Those who often post dumplings on their social media accounts are the same ones who like to post their Christmas celebrations.”
The Langfang incident and similar crackdowns throughout the country indicate that the Communist Party intends to make it more difficult for Chinese people to embrace even secular Christmas traditions. In cities like Xian – where archaeologists found an eighth-century Nestorian tablet, the first evidence of Christians living in China – Kunming, and other locations, local government officials have discouraged citizens to display Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and other Western traditions, even as malls and large retailers use Christmas as an excuse to put on large sales and profit.
While shops in metropolises like Shanghai have largely failed to attract police action, smaller cities like Nanyang and Hengyang have seen an increase in police activity to shut down Christmas sales and warn stores that any Christmas sales would trigger government retribution. In the Hengyang case, police ordered Communist Party members, in particular, to remain “models of adherence to Chinese traditional culture” and stay away from Christmas celebrations.
Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has prioritized eradicating the independent practice of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism during his tenure, choosing to promote Communist Party-directed religious organizations rather than attempting to discourage religion completely. Christianity is one of China’s most popular religions, prevalent nationwide and reportedly attracting as many as 100 million people. (For comparison, China boasts only 80 million members of the Communist Party.) China legally recognizes five religions – Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Catholicism – all led by government-approved leaders. On Monday, China’s Communist-approved Catholic church organized Christmas mass celebrations to contain the observation of the holiday to controlled locations.