The Chinese government is demanding the country’s state-sanctioned Protestant church to use artwork depicting biblical characters as ancient Chinese men and women.
According to Bitter Winter, Heavenly Wind magazine is published monthly by the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council. Since the beginning of the year, the magazine’s cover art has featured “sinicized” biblical illustrations with Jesus talking to ancient Chinese characters in Chinese landscapes, a move Bitter Winter warns “goes well beyond the iconographic ‘inculturation’ traditionally practiced by Catholic and some other missionaries.”
For example, Mary was “personified as an ancient Chinese woman,” and the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes shows Jesus feeding characters “portrayed with their hair tied in traditional Chinese buns.” Additionally, Jesus is shown wearing traditional Han attire.
A 70-year-old Christian from the province of Qinghai told Bitter Winter the Communist government “has always talked about de-Westernization” and “doesn’t allow Chinese people to believe in the God of foreigners.”
“But I never expected that the Lord Jesus and saints through the ages would be transformed into Chinese people,” the elderly Christian said.
“My eyes widened when I saw Mary with her hair tied in a bun like an ancient Chinese woman. It’s so bizarre.”
China's sinicization of the Bible goes beyond imagery. The July edition of Heavenly Wind included charts comparing certain passages of Scripture with the teachings of a book written by Chinese philosopher Zhu Bolu (1617-1688).
For instance, the Bible verse, “It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy” (Proverbs 14:21), was said to be similar to the Confucian saying, “There is nothing more shameful than being jealous of the wealth and power of others; there is nothing lowlier than looking down on poor people.”
“This is like killing someone with an invisible knife,” one preacher told Bitter Winter. “During the Cultural Revolution, if you believed in Jesus, the Communist Party would arrest you and kill you in the open. Now, the regime is gradually distorting the Christian doctrine in secret.”
According to Bitter Winter, Heavenly Wind magazine “has always been a good indicator of the state of ‘official’ Christianity in China.” Christians in the country are concerned that the government is using traditional Chinese culture to “replace the Bible and distort biblical teachings,” it adds.
In 2016, President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping ordered the sinicization of all religions to ensure they are loyal to the officially atheistic party.
Since then, in efforts to free religion from perceived foreign influence, Chinese officials have shut down churches, arrested congregations, and reportedly attempted to rewrite the Bible.
In September, it was reported that Chinese government officials demanded that clergy affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in Yuzhou city base their sermons on a book that blends biblical teachings with the teachings of Confucius.
A pastor from the Yuzhou area warned that some of the arguments in the book completely misrepresent some teachings in the Bible.
In June, multiple Three-Self churches in Qingdao city in the Shandong province were ordered by the Religious Affairs Bureau to sing new patriotic hymns written by the state-sanctioned Christian councils instead of traditional worship songs.
The chorus of one of the hymns included the lines: “China is beautiful; China is great; the sons and daughters of China love China. … Bless China, O Lord.”
Watchdog group Open Doors USA ranked China No. 27 on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith.
Open Doors warned in its report that "the increased power of the government and the rule of President Xi Jinping continue to make open worship difficult in some parts of the country."