Because of the aid they get from the state, impoverished religious residents are told to renounce their faith, or their benefits will be withdrawn.
by Zhang Feng
The coronavirus outbreak has significantly affected China’s economy and people’s livelihoods, primarily low-income households. Without much help from the state amid the pandemic, religious residents are also coerced to renounce their faith, or their welfare benefits will be canceled.
In April, the government of a town administered by Linfen, a prefecture-level city in the northern province of Shanxi, called officials from all villages under its jurisdiction for a meeting. The participants were ordered to remove crosses, religious symbols and images from the homes of people of faith who receive social welfare payments and replace them with portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi Jinping. The officials were instructed to annul the subsidies to those who protest the order.
A member of a Three-Self church in one of the villages told Bitter Winter that local officials tore down all religious couplets and a calendar with an image of Jesus in his home and posted a portrait of Mao Zedong instead. “Impoverished religious households can’t receive money from the state for nothing—they must obey the Communist Party for the money they receive,” the believer remembered how the official scolded him.
A preacher from a house church received a visit from local officials in May. They removed a cross and images of Jesus from his home and posted a portrait of Mao Zedong. “All impoverished households in the town were told to display Mao Zedong images,” the preacher said with anger. “The government is trying to eliminate our belief and wants to become God instead of Jesus.”
The policy is being implemented in other localities across China. In April, the government of Xinyu city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi withdrew a disabled Christian’s minimum living subsidy and a monthly disability allowance of 100 RMB (about $ 14).
“Officials told me that we would be treated as anti-Party elements if my husband and I continued attending worship services,” the man’s wife lamented.
A Three-Self church member from Jiangxi’s Poyang county, in her 80s, was removed from the government’s aid list because she said “Thank God” after receiving her monthly 200 RMB (about $ 28) subsidy in mid-January. “They expected me to praise the kindness of the Communist Party instead,” the believer said.
In mid-May, an official from a village administered by Heze city in the eastern province of Shandong stormed into the home of a local Christian and posted portraits of Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping. “These are the greatest Gods. If you want to worship somebody, they are the ones,” the believer recalled the official saying as he was attaching the portraits to the wall.
A Christian from Weihui city in the central province of Henan has been taking care of her two sons by herself after her husband died unexpectedly more than ten years ago. She started receiving a minimum living allowance from the state in 2016. In early April, a village official ordered the woman to sign a statement renouncing her faith and destroy all Christian symbols in her house. Since she refused, her allowance was canceled.
A woman from Henan’s Shangqiu city, in her 70s, had her minimum living allowance canceled on April 14 because government officials found a cross image posted on her house door. “They tore it down immediately,” the elderly Christian remembered. “Afterward, both my minimum living allowance and poverty alleviation subsidy were canceled. I am being driven to a dead end. I have diabetes and need injections regularly.”
“This little money she received from the government was her bread and butter,” a neighbor commented. “But it has been canceled because of a cross image, causing great harm to this woman.”