Government-sponsored nationwide campaigns are paving the way for organized operations to arrest members of China’s largest Christian new religious movement.
by Shen Xiang
In a scene from a CCP-coined stage play, a man in a yellow headband was waving a wooden sword randomly in the air, with a piece of burning yellow paper on its tip, chanting spells, as he walked back and forth. The actor was impersonating a member of The Church of Almighty God (CAG) who was treating a sick boy with witchcraft instead of taking him to a hospital – one of the many misleading myths that the Chinese regime is spreading against the CAG to influence the general population.
Supported by the government of Luoyang city in the central province of Henan, the play was shown in every corner of the area during the past six months. Headmasters in some middle schools have been reluctant to allow students to watch the play, fearing that it could disrupt their schooling. But the local Bureau of Culture insisted that everyone had to see the play.
Similar plays, films, and other forms of propaganda to discredit the CAG are widely used throughout China. False information, such as McDonald’s Murder of 2014 in the eastern province of Shandong, is purposefully sensationalized by the CCP to smear the movement, which the state plans to completely eradicate by 2020, according to a government insider.
According to the internal documents that Bitter Winter has received from various parts of China, the government launched in 2019 new concentrated negative information campaigns against the CAG, as part of the general “anti-xie jiao” drive. The current list of the xie jiao, which the CCP misleadingly translates as “cults,” includes Falun Gong, the CAG, the Shouters, and other religious groups that the regime views as a threat mainly due to their fast growth and mercilessly persecutes their adherents.
As per the documents, the campaign includes picture exhibitions, accompanied by propaganda materials and slogans and displayed in busy areas, videos, theatrical performances, and “anti-xie jiao” ads publicized online, on television, and radio.
Anti-xie jiao parks and education bases can be found anywhere in China, with specially-prepared programs, square dancing and painting competitions, knowledge contests organized for the population to take part in.
A person hired by the Bureau of Culture in a locality in Henan to work on the scripts for such propaganda materials told Bitter Winter that the government considers the number of CAG followers too large, and, therefore, funds all kinds of “anti-xie jiao” projects. He said that he knew nothing about the CAG before this job. “I can earn 50,000 RMB [about $ 7,000] for a short script,” he confessed, adding that an “effective” script may bring him a chance of promotion.
“The authorities are vigorously cracking down on The Church of Almighty God now. As a result, many members have been arrested,” the man continued. “Any religious group from the West, regardless of denomination, including Christians, must be banned; thus, the Political and Legal Affairs Commission plans to make propaganda films about that.” According to him, Beijing is publicizing a series of anti-Christianity stage plays to be shown in local theaters.
“They do this because people like watching stage plays,” a theater operator explained. “The government wants everyone to know about the ‘anti-xie jiao’ campaign through them.”
During the shows, the government’s messages are reinforced with printed propaganda. At a recent anti-xie jiao performance in the Culture Square of Xiaotun town, under the jurisdiction of Henan’s Ruzhou city, the audience received information materials that included a bulletin, encouraging people to report on CAG meeting venues and members for monetary rewards.
In this and other similar bulletins being distributed across China, reporting a meeting venue can earn a monetary reward ranging from hundreds to more than 1,000 RMB (about $ 140). For a reported CAG believer, one can make from 100 to 300,000 RMB (about $ 14 – 42,000), depending on the importance of the information provided.
According to the statistics compiled by the government of Shandong’s Linyi city in May, during the past two years, 160 believers from different religious groups, including the CAG, Falun Gong, and the Shouters, had been arrested as a result of the leads from the public.
CAG devotees have no safe space to practice their faith in the face of growing brutal crackdowns, enforced with omnipresent propaganda against them that incites people to report on them. The number of arrested CAG members is increasing. As of the end of October, 944 have been detained in Shandong Province alone.
“The propaganda has negatively affected me,” a CAG believer told Bitter Winter. “My family and friends now oppose my faith and prevent me from going to meetings, though some of them had no objections at the beginning. They just worry that I could be arrested, and they can be implicated as well. My neighbors and colleagues have started monitoring me; anyone around me could be a snitch reporting to the government. I don’t feel safe.”