Amid bans on Christmas, state-run Protestant churches all over China were allowed to celebrate the birth of Jesus only by singing “red” songs and extolling the CCP.
by Tang Zhe
Like in 2018, the CCP government also imposed bans on celebrating Christmas last year, deeming the holiday a part of Western values and prohibiting gatherings in public and at home, forbidding sales of Christmas merchandise. Places of worship were subjected to especially rigorous control during the season of the most widely celebrated Christian holiday.
According to a Three-Self preacher from Ningling county, administered by Shangqiu city in the central province of Henan, the president of the county’s Two Chinese Christian Councils announced on December 2, that strict restrictions had been imposed on Christmas services in the county’s Three-Self churches. Although some were allowed to hold them, the festivities were “sinicized” in form and content, turning Christmas into a formal, trivial event.
On Christmas morning, the celebrations in a Three-Self church in Henan’s Xuchang city started with 15 choir members singing the national anthem under the watchful eyes of a local official who has been assigned to supervise religious work in the area. A banner “Celebrate Christmas by singing the national anthem” hung above their heads.
Video: Believers of a Three-Self church in Xuchang city sing the national anthem.
“This is a national policy,” another believer explained. “On Christmas Day this year, we have to sing the national anthem first and send a recording of this to the Religious Affairs Bureau. If we refused to do so, we would have been prohibited from celebrating Christmas at all, and the church might be closed. All believers of the five authorized religions must sing the national anthem now, officials pressuring them every day. The government keeps suppressing religions out of fear that they would spread even more. If you don’t obey those in power, they will destroy your place of worship.”
The congregation of Central Church in Chengguan town in Shangqiu’s Xiayi county celebrated Christmas three days ahead of the actual day, on December 22. Twelve church members in army uniforms danced on stage to the hymn “The good soldier of Christ,” which has been adapted from a Chinese revolutionary song, as one believer was waving the national flag.
Video: The Central Church congregation in Xiayi county perform on stage.
The detailed plans for Christmas celebrations in a Three-Self church in Shanggao county under the jurisdiction of Yichun city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi were reported to the United Front Work Department (UFWD) two weeks ahead of the holiday. The approved program, however, did not contain any flavor of Christmas: there were no traditional Christmas symbols in the church, as they were replaced by slogans promoting the core socialist values and love for the CCP and the country. Only the national anthem and songs like “My motherland and Me” were sung during the celebration.
Video: Choir members singing “My Motherland and Me” in a church in Shanggao county.
“The host unplugged the microphone out of fear to get into trouble,” the believer explained, adding that a yellow vehicle with a slogan “Clear out gang crimes and eliminate evil” posted on it was parked outside the church, and two men were keeping watch over it. Several CCP officials were also wandering by the entrance to the church.
On December 19, members of a Three-Self church in the Gaoxin district of Jiangxi’s Xinyu city were observing Christmas under the surveillance of UFWD officials. Before the celebration, the congregation had to sing the national anthem and the song “Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China,” standing under the national flag.
On December 22, after the congregation of a Three-Self church in Luofang town, administered by Xinyu city, ended their Christmas service, a UFWD official demanded them to go to the Luofang Meeting Memorial Museum, dedicated to Mao Zedong and his activities in the province. The believers were ordered to take photos of their visit and send them to the UFWD.
On December 15, the congregation of the Grace Church (思恩堂) in Xinyu-administered Renhe township celebrated Christmas under the watchful eyes of local officials who were taking photos throughout the event. According to a church member, the preacher pledged in prayer to obey the Communist Party and submit to its control. After the service, the preacher asked two congregation members to distribute calendars illustrated with the core socialist values, but about two-thirds of believers refused to take them.
“We won’t take these calendars because they are not Christian,” several believers said angrily.