The CCP expands its propaganda bases across China to exert ideological control over the population. Numerous places of worship are seized for this purpose.
by Lin Yijiang
In 2012, the government of Sanjie town, administered by Shengzhou city in the eastern province of Zhejiang, built a new cultural center with privately invested funds. The site for it was specifically selected next to the state-run Three-Self Nanjie Church, the construction of which started in 2009 and was coming to an end in 2012. A town official explained at the time that the decision to quickly build the cultural auditorium was made because the new tall church was about “to overshadow the Communist Party.”
According to a report by the Shengzhou city Culture Museum, the cultural center was built “to seize ideological positions” of residents in rural areas, since “there are many churches where people of faith are involved in religious activities,” and “people crowd religious festivals, in sharp contrast to the poorly attended cultural venues in villages.”
“If the Communist Party doesn’t take over rural residents’ ideology, it will be taken over by religion,” a town government official said. “If the Communist Party eliminates religions openly, it’ll create a very negative image in the world. It’s necessary to try hard to reduce room for religion.”
A Christian from Sanjie told Bitter Winter that some believers stopped going to church and prefer to go to the cultural auditorium to watch films, dance, or even get free medical services, which the local authorities sometimes organize to attract more people.
Over ten thousand cultural auditoriums have been built in Zhejiang Province’s rural areas from 2013 to 2020; many were set up in the churches and ancestral temples taken over by the state.
The cultural auditorium in Xidai village under the jurisdiction of Zhejiang’s Zhuji city also holds training activities for local Communist Party members. A propaganda banner on the building reads, “The Communist Party and its central committee are people’s saviors.”
Since the cultural auditorium in Wenyuan, a village in the provincial capital Hangzhou, was established in an ancestral temple, themed propaganda activities are held there each month. March was dedicated to Lei Feng, a quasi-mythical Communist legend and soldier in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, often used in Chinese propaganda as a model citizen. In July, activities to celebrate the founding of the CCP were organized, while Shaoxing opera performances praised the government for “defeating the epidemic” in August. October was spent celebrating China’s National Day.
The anti-religious agenda is also an integral part of rural cultural centers’ propaganda activities, especially when targeting religious groups designated by the states as xie jiao. Within half a year, nearly 200 anti-xie jiao activities were held in Xianju county, administered by the prefecture-level city of Taizhou.
“Ancestral temples should be venues where people pay respect to their ancestors, but not anymore—they have lost all features of ancestral temples after the government converted them into red education bases,” a Zhuji city resident complained.
Countless churches and ancestral temples have been converted into “Civilization Practice Stations for a New Era,” a nationwide initiative to promote Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and strengthen the Party’s ideological propaganda work.
According to a CCP media report in August 2019, 362 “Civilization Practice Stations for a New Era” were established since 2018 in Shangrao county in the prefecture-level city by the same name.
“We are not only required to show red films and play revolutionary songs every day but must also cooperate with the government in implementing various propaganda tasks,” the manager of a civilization practice station in the county explained. “The county’s publicity department, an institution that manages us, organized a meeting in August to demand that we restrict people from practicing their faith through propaganda activities. Now the state pays much attention to ideology, and civilization practice stations are used to ensure that people show loyalty to the Communist Party.”
“These practice stations must steer people’s ideology and make them follow the Party,” the deputy director of a publicity department in Shangrao city explained. “If people participate in activities, they will have no time to believe in religions.”
The Zhang Clan Ancestral Temple and the Xiong Clan Ancestral Temple in Shangrao’s Guangxin district were converted into “Civilization Practice Stations for a New Era” last year. Memorial tablets inside them have been replaced with revolutionary memorabilia, propaganda publications, and portraits of Mao Zedong and other CCP leaders.
“Weddings and funerals are no longer held in these ancestral halls, nor the clans’ genealogy is allowed to be displayed anymore,” a Guangxin district resident lamented. “The government has occupied these temples, and residents are deprived of their right to use them.”
The Yang Clan Ancestral Temple in Xianghu, a town in Ruijin city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, had a history spanning hundreds of years and occupied over 5,000 square meters. In December last year, the temple was turned into a civilization practice station. Various ideological books are now displayed there, and propaganda posters and portraits of revolutionary leaders are hung on the walls.