On Christmas Eve this year, the tens of millions of Christians in China can only celebrate their most important religious holiday discreetly and in fear as the Communist Party regime has unleashed its most severe crackdown on Christmas in recent years. Church services are strictly curtailed and monitored by cameras, and there have been reports of Christmas trees getting toppled and local authorities sponsoring “anti-Christmas protests” meant to drive Christians into the shadows.
Numerous reports from across China indicate that state officials and the security apparatus have been mobilized to suppress Christmas celebrations by Chinese Christians, according to a Dec. 23 report by ChinaAid, a Christian NGO based in Midland, Texas.
In one example, the Public Security Bureau of Anqing City in Anhui Province in eastern China issued a notice on Dec. 21 titled “The prohibition of any Christmas-related activity.” It ordered all commercial and public avenues “not to create any atmosphere of Christmas celebration” and banned any display of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, or any item associated with Christmas.
In another incident believed to have taken place in Beijing, video footage recently uploaded online appears to show a large Christmas tree being toppled by a group of men dressed in black, littering the ground with many ornaments and garlands that fell out of the tree.
Many Churches have been discouraged and in many cases prohibited by local governments from holding services or any celebrations for congregations around Christmas Eve and Christmas. Such a constraint on Christmas has happened both at the underground “House Churches” and also at the “Three-Self Churches.” The Three-Self Churches are the state-sanctioned protestant churches in China that are institutionally controlled by the Chinese regime and that supposedly represent all Christians in China.
The ChinaAid report cites a churchgoer in the city of Heshan in southern China’s Guangdong Province who said that officials from Public Security Bureau “seized control” of a local Three-Self church and installed numerous surveillance cameras at the church entrance two weeks prior to Christmas.
The crackdown is more severe for the large number of underground House Churches across China, which are deemed illegal by the Chinese regime. A woman who attends a House Church at Tonghua City in the northeastern province of Jilin said that the local Public Security Bureau has banned “any Christian gathering of more than eight people.”
Due to the intense crackdown, many Christians in China have reportedly shifted to celebrating Christmas in early December, or to not celebrating at all in public. ChinaAid published a photo taken by a churchgoer in coastal Zhejiang Province which shows the poor attendance at the church’s Christmas Eve dinner, likely due to pressure from the authorities.
‘War On Christmas’
The Chinese Communist Party officially espouses an atheist ideology based on Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought and prohibits Party members from belonging to a religion. Despite official opposition to religion, though, China’s Christian population has soared in recent years and is now numbered in the tens of millions by various estimates.
The renewed crackdown, described by some as China’s “War on Christmas,” is believed to be motivated at least partially by the Chinese regime’s fear of Western religious influence, which it perceives as a potential threat to its state ideology and therefore regime stability.
The regime’s crackdown on Christmas goes beyond stopping Chinese Christians from attending churches. Government officials in many places orchestrate and support “anti-Christmas protests,” such as one in Zhejiang Province recently where, according to ChinaAid, a group of “retirees” paraded with China’s national flag and yelled slogans like “Boycott Christmas!” and “No to Christmas!”
It has also been reported that members of the Chinese Communist Party’s Youth League at the University of South China in Hunan Province were issued an order not to participate in Christmas-related celebrations, based on a photo of the letter sent to the students that was widely-circulated on Weibo, a twitter-like platform in China.
The Communist Party Youth League’s official Weibo account published a post on Christmas Eve that seeks to lecture readers on the many China-related historical events that happened on Dec. 24, which it seems to suggest are more important than Christmas.
One of the events it mentions is the 1946 “Shen Chong case,” which concerns an alleged rape of a Chinese girl by American soldiers stationed in Beijing on Christmas Eve of that year. That incident has been thoroughly debunked by historians as a smear campaign that was fabricated by the Chinese Communist Party to be used against the Chinese nationalist government during the civil war.