Local authorities intensify efforts in organizing events of popular appeal to make people refute their faith and pray to the only God – the Communist Party.
by Gu Xi
The rapid development of religions in recent years – especially the growth of Christianity in rural China –has become one of the primary causes for the CCP to launch all-encompassing campaigns, intended to suppress people of faith, with particular attention given to villages and small towns.
It is not surprising that the first document issued by the CCP’s Central Committee in 2018, the so-called “No. 1 Central Document,” entitled Opinions on the Implementation of the Strategy of Rural Vitalization, identified the suppression of “illegal religious activities” and “foreign infiltration” in rural areas as one of the primary tasks for local authorities across the country.
To achieve the set goals, crackdowns on churches and temples are being supplemented with “soft” activities to offset the spread of religions, such as the strengthening of political education for the clergy and the promotion of patriotism, i.e. unconditional love to the Communist Party, among believers by invading churches with communist propaganda or replacing prayer with revolutionary songs and traditional Chinese opera.
“Panem et Circenses,” “bread and circuses” in Latin, a political strategy, widely used by Roman emperors who offered a variety of pleasures – from food to gladiator fights and chariot races – to appease the population, is now also employed by the CCP, offering monetary rewards and shows for the masses in exchange for their faith.
“Happy Sundays” replace Sunday Mass
Throughout China, local authorities are initiating activities with prosaic, superficial entertainment outside churches, often called “Happy Sundays,” to “win over ideological territory from religion,” believing that people turn to spiritual enlightenment because they feel a void in their lives.
According to a document, issued by a county government in the central province of Henan earlier this year, entitled Dealing with the Serious Problems of the Religious Situation, “Religion is vying against the Party in every field of ideological territory and people’s hearts.” The edict asserts that this has become a problem that the government needs to resolve urgently.
To halt “the spread of Christianity through vast rural areas,” the document mandates to “organize various cultural activities; extensively launch ‘Happy Sundays,’ events promoting culture, science and technology, and health in rural areas, and other activities; organize cultural events during religious holidays and on Sundays to eliminate the influence of religion.”
Watch a movie and be rewarded
Huatian Church, a state-approved Three-Self church, is located in Zhushan town, under the jurisdiction of Xinyu city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi. Congregation members usually meet for worshiping every Wednesday and Sunday. This May, village officials went door to door, demanding residents to go to the village auditorium on these days to watch movies or study President Xi Jinping’s speeches.
To ensure that as many people attended the events as possible, the authorities have introduced a rewards card that accumulates financial bonuses, village residents told Bitter Winter. Watching movies for one hour on specified days earns one point that could be used to redeem one RMB (about $ 0.15). The collected rewards can be exchanged for oil, shampoo, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, and other daily necessities.
The duration of movies usually corresponds to the time believers spend at church gatherings, and the government selects what can be screened. “Red” movies with patriotic content, depicting heroism of Chinese communists during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949), and other historical events, are what is usually offered to the public.
“You shouldn’t go to worship. You can watch movies and get free things here. Come to the auditorium to watch movies and learn good things,” a village official advertised to villagers.
“Rival shows” organized outside churches
Nanjiazhuang Church, located in Jiazhuang village in Guanyinsi town of Henan’s Xinzheng city is also a Three-Self church that managed to survive the hurricane of church closures in the village. Over the past six months, during each congregation gathering, a “rival” performance is usually held at the village’s cultural theater, not even 300 meters from the church.
“When a traditional Chinese opera is performed, the sound through speakers is deafening. It is disconcerting. The government is just doing this to win over those who believe in God,” a villager complained.
“Believers who also like watching plays cannot concentrate during worshiping. The singing is indeed unsettling,” commented a church member.
According to villagers, during these six months, no performances were held only on three days, because of hot weather. Each event costs 1,000 RMB (about $ 140) on average, which is paid by the town’s cultural center.
“Performances are mainly intended to disturb Christians’ gatherings. Guanyinsi town government assigned this task to the Jiazhuang village. Every Sunday, township government officials urge the opera troupe to come as early as possible,” said one of the performers.
At a meeting in June to celebrate the 98th anniversary of the CCP founding, the town’s Party secretary emphasized that Jiazhuang village must continue performing operas on Sundays.
Paying people to keep them from faith
Residents of Henan’s Xin’an county under the jurisdiction of Luoyang city reported that personnel of village committees in the area distributed calcium tablets, vouchers that can be exchanged for products, and even handed out money, luring people to attend recreational activities. Seeing that the number of participants was still too small, some village officials drove to the homes of residents to bring more people.
“The national policy stipulates that each village must carry out ‘Happy Sunday’ activities. If we don’t act, we will be punished,” a village official revealed. “This is what the state requires. Make all those women at home come out to perform the yangge [literally ‘Rice Sprout Song,’ a traditional Chinese folk dance] and dance. Bring them all together to be managed by the director of the local Committee of the Women’s Federation. Their time is spent on learning how to dance and perform the yangge, so they have no time to believe in God.”
With the song “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China” playing, villagers were gathered in the square to dance. Village officials took photos and sent them to their superiors.
Residents of other Henan’s villages, administered by the cities of Puyang, Xuchang, and many others, have reported to Bitter Winter that local governments are also actively promoting “Happy Sunday” activities.
“People won’t be able to rest in the future. We can’t take time off, must always be present,” a village official from Puyang complained. “Sundays should be for resting at home. Now, I don’t even have time to spend with my children or see my parents.”