China bans Christmas activities, forces some churches to halt services

A worker holding a newly made Santa Claus model is surrounded by students in Yiwu, Zhejiang province December 4, 2014.
A worker holding a newly made Santa Claus model is surrounded by students in Yiwu, Zhejiang province December 4, 2014. | (Photo: REUTERS/China Daily)

Christians in China faced increased persecution throughout the Christmas season, with authorities shutting down many worship services and caroling events.

According to International Christian Concern, Shenzhen University in Guangdong, China, sent out a notice to staff asking them to ban students from holding Christmas activities, posting Christmas flyers, or showing Christmas displays on campus.

Pastor Yang Xibo from Xunsiding Church in Xiamen city told ICC that some local Christians were invited to perform Christmas songs at a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. However, their performance was interrupted by local police, and local Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau and State Security also dispatched staff to make sure the Christians’ performance was canceled.

To discourage churches from meeting for the holidays, government officials required a state-sanctioned Catholic church in Jiangsu province’s Wuxi city to obtain approval from at least eight offices before it was permitted to hold Christmas mass.

Father Francis Liu from Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness shared a photo of riot police standing in front of Xishiku Cathedral in Beijing’s Xicheng district. A board outside of the church’s gate reads: “Due to the pandemic, all church activities have been halted.”

ICC notes that these excessive measures “further proves the government’s fear of religion.” 

In 2017, President Xi Jinping told a Communist Party Congress that “the leadership should persist in advancing the Sinicisation of our country’s religions.” That same year, the CPP’s central committee and state council issued an official document, titled "Suggestions on the implementation of projects to promote and develop traditional Chinese culture excellence." Since then, Chinese authorities have cracked down on non-Chinese celebrations.

In 2018, just before Christmas, authorities in some cities such as Langfang, in Hebei province, ordered shops to remove Christmas decorations on the streets and in window displays.

Last year, videos circulated in WeChat groups depicting schoolchildren in China denouncing Christmas as a “Westerners’ festival” and that it was “a shame” for Chinese to celebrate the holiday.

Authorities across China also warned members of Christian churches not to try holding public gatherings to celebrate Christmas, and the disciplinary arm of the CCP banned its members and government officials from celebrating Christmas, comparing the practice to "spiritual opium" for members of the atheist party.

China’s restrictions on Christmas come amid a broader crackdown on underground churches, Christians and church leaders.

Recently, it was reported that Chinese officials ordered dozens of churches to replace crosses with the five-pointed star, the symbol featured on the country’s flag to represent the CCP and its role in the nation.

China has also tightened restrictions on the distribution of religious materials in recent months by threatening fines, the closure of printing shops, or even imprisonment for selling Christian books or allowing customers to photocopy hymns.

According to a recent report, tens of thousands of house church pastors and evangelists across China have gone into hiding, disconnecting from their phones and computers so that government authorities can no longer use those devices to track their movements. 

On Open Doors USA’s World Watch List, China is ranked No. 23 on its list of countries known for persecuting Christians. The organization notes that all churches are perceived as a threat if they become too large, too political, or invite foreign guests.

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