Patriotic ideology and traditional Chinese culture forcefully replacing religious activities, churches pressured to stage plays and operas to transform faith.
On February 15, multiple Three-Self churches in Qingdao city in the eastern province of Shandong received an order from the Religious Affairs Bureau, prohibiting churchgoers from singing Worship Songs or Spiritual Song Collection. Instead, believers are only allowed to sing the Newly Compiled Hymns published by China’s Two National Christian Councils.
According to the director of a Three-Self church, the content of the hymns in Worship Songs is mainly Bible chapters, while Spiritual Song Collection contains testimonies of experiences written by Christians. The hymns express believers’ gratitude and praise for God. However, much of the content of the Newly Compiled Hymns reveals concepts such as the love of the country, respect for the aged and parents, also mentioning birthdays and funerals.
“The hymns published by the government only promote political, secularized content. All believers are unwilling to sing them,” the director said helplessly. He cited the chorus of one of the hymns as an example: “China is beautiful; China is great; the sons and daughters of China love China. … Bless China, O Lord.”
“Such hymns aren’t praising the Lord at all. They are entirely praising the country, and are no different from secular songs. Isn’t the government engaging in dishonesty and deceit?” the director commented.
Judging from the large number of activities, Shandong is at the forefront of integrating traditional culture with Christianity. In early April, the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Heze city’s Mudan district convened a meeting of Christian representatives demanding all churches to establish “Christian cultural activity centers.” The venues are to write and perform Chinese operas and skits; form activity groups for painting and calligraphy, Chinese operas, fashion shows, and photography; incorporate local cultural characteristics into Christian traditions, and promote the “sinicization” of Christianity.
On May 11, a church in Mudan district held a drama show reflecting the spirit of the 19th National Party Congress, with songs about the so-called “four requirements” to promote sinicization,” and staging of the play Hongniang (Scarlet) – based a fictional character from Yingying’s Biography, a Chinese story by the prolific Chinese author Yuan Zhen (779-831).
Video: Opera performers are singing about Party’s policies on the “sinicization” of religion on stage.
Control over and alteration of Christian hymns has also been implemented in other provinces and cities. Religious Affairs Bureau officials confiscated Canaan Hymns from some Three-Self churches in Chengde, Tangshan, and other cities in the northern province of Hebei. The officials prohibited the circulation and singing of Canaan Hymns and allowed only Christian hymns with Chinese characteristics.
In March, the Two Chinese Christian Councils of Hunan, the birth province of Mao Zedong in the south of the country, issued an Outline of Hunan’s Five-Year Work Plan to Promote the ‘Sinicization’ of Christianity. Under the principle work arrangements until 2022, the authorities are planning to compile a Hunan Hymn Collection, further promoting the integration of Christianity and traditional Chinese culture.
The southeastern province of Fujian is planning to hold a “‘Sinicization’ of Christianity Sacred Music Concert” in September, using traditional Chinese musical melodies or popular tunes to showcase Fujian’s local cultural characteristics and promote the spirit of a new era.