In its effort to blot out religion, the Chinese Communist Party uses churches and temples as venues for the non-religious to perform.
On February 15, 2019, a theatrical performance broke the serenity of Faguan Buddhist Temple, located in the Hukou county of Jiujiang city in southeast Jiangxi Province, which is usually a tranquil ancient temple, built in the Song Dynasty – an era which lasted from 960-1279.
Using temples and churches as a site for political and cultural performances is a new government anti-religion tactic employed throughout China. Authorities are introducing “Happy Sunday” events of promoting dances, tug-of-war games, and other amusements, as an alternative to Sunday Mass or are taking over churches to turn them into theaters, game rooms, and different types of entertainment venues.
Just before the Spring Festival, China’s New Year, the president of the Buddhist Association of Jiujiang city and leaders from Hukou county’s Religious Affairs Bureau convened a meeting of more than 100 abbots from the local temples and demanded that each temple adhere to “love of country and love of religion.”
Besides the demands of raising the national flag at religious venues and the posting of the new Regulations on Religious Affairs, temples are now required to host cultural events that promote “Chinese national culture” and “core socialist values.”
And so, the Faguan Buddhist Temple had no choice but to invite a theatrical troupe to stage performances at the temple in accordance with the government’s requirements, a Buddhist householder, otherwise known as a lay devotee, told Bitter Winter.
“This is one of the national policies. It’s the same everywhere. I went to the temples at the foot of Lushan Mountain. Just like here, they are holding various ceremonies,” one elderly householder said. “A temple is supposed to be a place for us Buddhists to find peace and quiet. Nowadays, temples aren’t even like temples anymore – they’re like country fairs. With that, how can we Buddhists find peace and quiet?”
Below the stage stood a group of volunteers wearing red vests, on the backs of which were two lines of striking Chinese characters: “Patriotism must come before religious faith; one must behave with integrity before studying Buddhism.”
“In our hearts, Buddha is definitely bigger. But the national policy requires us to ‘love our country before believing in Buddhism’; there is nothing we can do,” one abbot said. “We have to fly the national flag and put on theatrical performances. If we don’t do as instructed, we will be driven out of the temple.”
The initiatives to force artistic performances into religious venues are still being implemented across central China’s Henan Province. This campaign is being carried out as if it were a political mission.
On February 5, 2019, Huxi Church in Yongcheng city’s Houling township held an event to celebrate the Spring Festival. But just as the show was beginning, the directors of the women’s federations of Huxi village and Huzhong village, accompanied by two young men, stormed into Huxi Church, turning the religious event into a politically cultural one.
The two young men then held up a banner reading “Houling Township Springtime Cultural Event: Huzhong Village Artistic Performance,” while the directors of women’s federations of the two villages’ were recording this scene with their mobile phones from below the stage.
“During the Spring Festival, we wanted to praise the Lord. But with them making trouble, it turned into an ‘artistic performance’ instead,” one believer angrily said. “They also said they would post the video for propaganda. Aren’t they misleading people into thinking that the church is holding recreational activities? What they are doing is utter blasphemy.”
Huxi Church in Yongcheng city’s Houling township held an event to celebrate the Spring Festival:
Reported by Tang Zhe