CCP takes over places of worship for new propaganda centers, aimed at instilling “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” into people’s brains.
by Tang Zhe
New civilization era – when communist ideology meets personality cult
In August, the congregation of a Catholic church that refuses to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) in Taosha, a town under the jurisdiction of Fengcheng city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, found out that their place of worship had been taken over by the government. The building’s round windows were remodeled into square-shaped ones, all furniture cleared out from the church, the crucifix replaced with a propaganda poster, reading, “Civilization Practice Station for a New Era,” and a bookcase filled with materials promoting communist ideology and traditional Chinese culture was moved into the church.
The congregation tried to protest against the forceful takeover, but the local officials wouldn’t budge. Instead, they were congratulating each other: and not only for having achieved a significant milestone in implementing President Xi Jinping’s policy to suppress religious belief but also because they opened up yet another “Civilization Practice Station for a New Era” – a propaganda base to promote communist ideology and traditional Chinese culture.
Civilization practice centers (referred to as “offices” at the town level and “stations” at the village level) is a nationwide project, launched in 2018 by the central government. According to state-run media reports in mainland China, the Guiding Opinions on the Work to Build ‘Civilization Practice Centers for a New Era’ on a Pilot Basis was reviewed and approved in July last year, at a meeting presided over by President Xi himself.
“Building ‘Civilization Practice Centers for a New Era’ is a major initiative in promoting ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ to take root in the hearts of the people,” proclaimed the minister of the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the CCP at a meeting in October last year, adding that it is essential to “make sure the grassroots–level governments carry out and strengthen the Party’s ideological propaganda work effectively.”
As soon as the order was adopted, “civilization practice” bases started appearing in large numbers throughout China. For example, in Qingdao, a sub-provincial city in the eastern province of Shandong with over 9 million population, 300 new propaganda institutions were opened in districts, towns, villages, and communities under the city’s jurisdiction. In the administrative divisions of Foshan – a prefecture-level city with about 7 million inhabitants in the southeastern province of Guangdong – 322.
The CCP-run media claims that the measure is aimed at “better fulfilling people’s spiritual and cultural lives.” But in reality, the authorities are seemingly using this as yet another tool to suppress all other thoughts other than Xi Jinping’s, and, in particular, to crack down on religious belief.
“Before the church was invaded, the police prohibited us from entering it, threatening to flog us with electric batons,” a member of the repurposed Catholic church in Taosha town recounted to Bitter Winter. “They said that we believed in a xie jiao, practiced superstition, and were destroying society. They told us to be patriotic.”
Before the takeover, in late June, the government ordered to demolish the church because it “occupied the land illegally.” To protect it, the person in charge of the church agreed to the government’s demands to hand over the church to authorities.
A Catholic church in Luohu town, under the jurisdiction of Jiangxi’s Fuzhou city, was also forcibly converted by the government into a Civilization Practice Station. Built in 2017, at the cost of over 1.7 million RMB (around $ 238,000), donated by believers, the church was put to use in 2018. The congregation managed to observe only four religious holidays before they were driven out by officials from the local Religious Affairs Bureau and township government. On April 21, on Easter Day, the same officials ordered them to join the CPCA, threatening to tear down the church if anyone disobeyed. A week later, officials moved office furniture into the church and posted a sign “Civilization Practice Station for a New Era” on the church’s exterior wall.
State-run churches are not exempt from takeovers
The government also repurposed a Three-Self church in Zhancheng town, under the jurisdiction of Huixian city in the central province of Henan, for the “civilization practice” project. According to eyewitnesses, on June 3, about 20 local government officials broke into the church and cleared out all its religious symbols. A banner that reads “Civilization Practice Station for a New Era, Education and Training Base for Party Members” was displayed inside the church.
A congregation member took photos of the officials clearing out the church but was violently beaten by them. She was then taken to a local police station where she had to pledge to refrain from making any more troubles and going to church. The believer was released soon after that.
“On the Communist Party’s territory, officials have the power to punish you at will. There is no freedom of belief in China,” a fellow churchgoer commented.
Video: Traditional opera was staged in the church after it was turned into a “civilization station.”
According to local government insiders, on June 28, the Communist Party members from 27 villages held a meeting in the church to celebrate the takeover. Since then, performances of traditional opera are organized in the church every weekend; village officials take photos of the events and send them to the local Religious Affair Bureau.
“The solemn church has been forcibly occupied by the government and repurposed for a place of recreation– and they claim it to be the ‘civilization for a new era.’ They are so shameless,” a church member said helplessly.
Many more churches have been converted into “civilization practice” bases across the country. Among them, a house church meeting venue in Weishangqiao town, administered by Dongxiang district in Fuzhou, and a Three-Self church meeting venue in Fengyang town in Fenyi county, under the jurisdiction of Jiangxi Province’s Xinyu city.