Chinese officials have been curtailing public manifestations of Christmas this year as part of President Xi Jinping’s efforts to eliminate vestiges of foreign religions and festivities.
Authorities visited a shopping and office complex in Nanyang on December 16 to order the removal of all Christmas decorations, and within 24 hours all the Christmas trees, lights, and bells had reportedly disappeared from the 27-story shopping structure.
Three days later, officials posted an online notice in Hengyang, a city in Hunan province, announcing that anyone caught holding Christmas sales or celebrations that blocked the streets would be punished, adding that Communist Party members were to avoid foreign festivals and instead be “models of adherence to Chinese traditional culture.”
Zi Yang, a China expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told the Associated Press that “foreign cultural elements such as Christmas are placed on the chopping block” as part of Xi’s push to revitalize Chinese tradition and “Sinicize” religion in China.
In Langfang city outside Beijing, authorities banned Christmas pageants and sales, ordering store windows to be stripped of Christmas adornments and streets kept free of all Christmas decorations and lights.
Police in the Panlong district of Kunming in southern China proscribed Christmas-related decorations and activities in hotels, karaoke bars, internet cafes, pubs, and other gathering spaces.
“It is forbidden to hang Christmas stockings, wear Christmas hats, place Christmas trees, and so on,” the police notice read.
These and other measures to rein in Christmas in China form part of tighter controls by the ruling Communist Party and “the systematic suppression of religion under President Xi Jinping,” the AP said in its report.
In recent weeks, communist authorities have shut down several prominent Christian churches as part of what the BBC called “China’s pre-Christmas church crackdown.”
The focus of the unwanted attention has been on underground Christian churches, which do not belong to the government-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement and are illegal under the communist regime.
On December 9, Chinese security forces conducted a series of coordinated raids on the Early Rain Covenant Church, one of the most prominent house churches in China, arresting as many as a hundred members, including Pastor Wang Yi and his wife.
According to Gina Goh, Southeast Asia regional manager for International Christian Concern, officials beat, tortured, and denied food and restroom accommodations to the Christian detainees.
Six days later, authorities stormed the Rongguili Church in Guangzhou, the largest unregistered church in south China, interrupting a children’s Bible class. Officials shut down the church and confiscated some 4,000 religious books.
A new series of regulations curbing religious practice went into effect in China last February 1, mandating the registration of all religious sites and prohibiting religious activities in unregistered venues. The new norms also forbid non-registered clergy from conducting religious liturgies and ban communist party members and all minors from entering a church.
A priest from Henan province called Father Thomas told ucanews.com, the leading independent Catholic news source in Asia, that authorities are determined to bring all religious activities under strict government control.
“The living space for the church is getting less and less,” the priest said.
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