Any words that might suggest religion are removed and replaced by secular, Party propaganda in China, as the regime continues defensive measures to “ensure stability.”
Since last year, the CCP has dismantled vast numbers of crosses and other religious symbols in public places and homes of believers on a nationwide scale. Signboards and names with religious overtones on buildings or businesses are also being prohibited and removed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Islam-related symbols are taken down on the grounds of combating “the spread of halal,” Chinese characters meaning “Buddha” or “Buddhism” are purged from shops or other venues, and business owners are forced to hide signboards that have names with Christian connotations, like “Hallelujah” or “grace.”
The scope of the crackdown is getting wider and wider, and this purge of “unpatriotic” language reminds some observers of the Cultural Revolution. The examples are many.
In November 2018, authorities in Sunwu county, under the jurisdiction of Heihe city in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang Province, ordered Tianci Kindergarten to remove the word tianci from its signboard. (Tianci literally means “gift from heaven” or “bestowed by heaven.”)
“The word tianci pertains to religious belief,” said one local government official. “Having this word hanging on the kindergarten’s signboard makes it easy for children to become indoctrinated with faith.” He ordered the kindergarten’s director to remove it or face closure.
The Shentong Kindergarten in the Jiguan district of Heilongjiang’s Jixi city faced a similar situation. The word shentong means “child prodigy,” but the first Chinese character shen by itself means “god” or “deity.” The authorities ordered that the signboard be removed or the school would not be allowed to register. Thus, the kindergarten changed its name to “Golden Flower Bud Full-Brain Education Kindergarten.”
A Three-Self church in Huaibei city in eastern China’s Anhui Province was ordered to remove the Chinese characters Shen ai shi ren, meaning “God loves the world,” from its entrance. At the time, an official from the local Religious Affairs Bureau said, “If God loves the world, does that mean that the Communist Party doesn’t love the world?”
A few months later, the church’s leader put up the words “ai guo ai jiao, rong Shen yi ren” (“Love Your Country, Love Your Religion; Honor God and Benefit the People”) by the entrance. He thought this would comply with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement’s requirement of “loving the country comes before loving religion.” However, it seems that phrases like “love your religion” and “honor God” were unacceptable.
“The eight Chinese characters for ‘Love Your Country, Love Your Religion; Honor God and Benefit the People’ must be removed,” ordered officials from the local Religious Affairs Bureau when they came to inspect the church last November. “You can only write about the Communist Party.”
The church’s leader complied. Shortly thereafter, officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau came again and hung their own sign extolling the “core socialist values.”
Five Three-Self churches in Guichi district in Anhui’s Chizhou city received similar treatment. In late October 2018, authorities removed signs reading “True Jesus Church,” “Gospel Hall,” and “Gratitude Hall” from the entrances of these buildings.
The crackdown on the signboards of shops selling traditional Buddhist supplies is still ongoing.
Vibrant Colors Hall Buddhist Craft Shop, located in Heilongjiang’s Muling city, is more than 20 years old and has been registered with the Bureau for Industry and Commerce for many years. In December, local government officials ordered the owner to remove the character Fo, meaning “Buddha” or “Buddhist,” from the store’s sign because the word has religious connotations. The shop owner, who is in her seventies, had to spend her own money to hire a worker to remove the character.
“Since the Fo character was removed, a lot of customers cannot find my store. Business has been severely affected,” the shop owner said.
The local Religious Affairs Bureau also ordered the Fo character to be removed from Shanyuan Hall and the Auspicious Buddhist Supply Shop in Muling city. The owner of Auspicious Buddha spent 400 RMB (around $60) to change the store’s name to Auspicious Handicrafts Shop.
“They [the government] said that the Fo character on our signboard had religious overtones and must be removed. They said that this was an order issued by the central authorities, and everyone must act accordingly,” said the owner of another Buddhist shop, who wished to remain anonymous.
On December 14, authorities in Heilongjiang’s Suifenhe city cited cityscape and environmental management regulations when ordering the removal of signboards with characters that are unapproved or substandard. A three-day period was given for store owners to comply or their stores would be shut down. Soon, one of the city’s Buddhist goods shops, Wanfa Pavilion, received an order for “correction” from the government. (Wanfa is a Buddhist term roughly meaning “myriad phenomena” or “all things.”)
At least eight Buddhist supply stores in the city had to remove words from their signboards. Some have suffered nearly 10,000 RMB (around $1,500) in losses as a result.
“Our store has been doing business for years, and we have a legal business license. The government is intentionally finding fault with us,” one shop owner complained.
“Since you’re under the leadership of the Communist Party, you cannot promote religion,” said one government official. “You must sing the praises of the Communist Party and put up portraits of Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping. Nothing else is allowed.”
Some religious people think this removal of faith-related words is much more than a matter of characters on signs. Instead, it is an ideological struggle. The authorities are seeking to purge all symbols and logos related to religion to ensure that their atheist communist ideology reigns supreme.
Reported by Zhou Hua