Ahead of Spring Festival, officials throughout China took measures ensuring that holiday wishes, traditionally hung in homes, don’t have religious connotations.
by Han Sheng
As the deadly coronavirus was spreading from Wuhan ahead of the Chinese New Year, and people around the country were fighting to survive, the CCP was intensifying its religion suppression campaign. Throughout China, local governments were making sure that no religious couplets were sold or displayed in peoples’ homes, threatening to fine or even imprison violators. Couplets – a form of Chinese poetry – is a tradition spanning generations when people write their wishes, often on red paper, and hang them on the doors or gates of their homes. Spring Festival couplets are the most common and traditional form to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
Sales banned, violators threatened
“Religious couplets are forbidden, so are the couplets with the word ‘love.’ If you sell such couplets, not only will they be confiscated, but you will be fined,” government officials warned shopkeepers in Luhe, a township in the Suiyang district of Henan’s Shangqiu city on January 19, just days from the start of the Spring Festival.
Such inspections became more frequent as the Chinese New Year was approaching. “We don’t carry religious couplets. Even if we had them, we wouldn’t dare to sell them,” a shopkeeper in Luhe told Bitter Winter, clearly distressed at the mention of religious couplets. “If our customers get into trouble for posting them, they may reveal the source, and we’ll be in trouble. A few years ago, many shops sold religious couplets. In 2018, the government started banning them. Last year, all couplets were confiscated from shops, and this year, sellers are threatened to be fined and imprisoned. No one sells them in Shangqiu anymore. Who dares to risk?”
A shop owner from Suiyang’s Xincheng sub-strict explained that because of the ban, publishing houses stopped making religious couplets. Elderly believers who used to earn some money selling them ahead of the holidays are now in a dire situation as well.
On the morning of January 5, outside a Three-Self church in Henan’s Xinyang city, a couple in their seventies were selling religious couplets. An official from the local Religious Affairs Bureau saw them and reported to the police. The two elderly, trembling with fear, got on their knees and pleaded to be released, explaining that they were selling the couples just to make some money to support their family.
A witness of the incident told Bitter Winter that the couple were released only because they were old, and the woman was in poor health. “If they were younger, they would have been arrested,” the witness added.
Video: The weeping elderly woman is explaining to the police that she has done nothing wrong.
Best holiday wish – declaring love to the CCP
Local governments are encouraging people of faith to replace religious couplets with CCP’s propaganda and portraits of President Xi Jinping’s, which they distribute for free.
On January 19, three officials from Poyang county in the southeastern province of Jiangxi stormed into a Three-Self church, took photos of all believers, and registered their personal information. They then distributed government propaganda couplets and portraits of President Xi, demanding to post them for the Spring Festival.
“All religious couplets must be torn down!” a police officer warned the believers. “It’s an order to replace them with Xi Jinping’s portraits and Party slogans. You must believe in the Communist Party.”
A believer from a village under the jurisdiction of Suiyang’s Luhe town told Bitter Winter that every household received couplets with CCP slogans from village officials, who demanded to post them instead of religious ones for the holidays. Couplets with sayings, like “The Party practices benevolent rule,” “Walk with the Party,” and “Strengthen our belief to follow the Party,” are now displayed at the entrances to villager’s homes.