London: All over the world Christians have celebrated Christmas, and other faiths have shared the happy holiday season. Catholics and Protestants have been free to follow their scriptures to the extent that they desire, religious or family traditions have been observed, including booking your space a smaller Churches in UK, so that social distancing can be observed. HM Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the Church of England, gave a memorable speech about seasonal treasured routines being handed down through generations and updated for changing times. But spare a thought for Christians in China where there are restrictions, prohibitions, limits and commandments on how to practice celebrating the birth of Christ, where increasing Sinicization of Christianity is the norm. The Christmas message from the CCP was not a greeting of goodwill for all humankind but agitprop for “Xi Jinping Thought”. The extraordinary greeting/statement from the CCP’s State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA), a department under the State Council of Religious Affairs, to “friends of Catholicism and Christendom” referred to the “nine musts” necessary for the realization of the second centenary goal, the policy and instructions for implementing Christianity with Chinese characteristics, which include “loving the party, loving the country and loving socialism”. This branch of “Xi Jinping Thought”, in which Christian “ideological and political consciousness has been newly improved”, was first broadcast at SARA’s National Conference on Religious Work in December, which focused on future education (re-education) and the work of the CCP approved Chinese Church which emphasises/insists on patriotism. Indeed the Washington based NGO International Christian Concern (ICC) found that since 2018 “All state-approved churches are required to raise the national flag, promote the Chinese Constitution and other laws, follow regulations on worship, preach core socialist values, and promote traditional Chinese culture.” Since then the ICC’s latest “Persecution Incident Report: China”, has discovered 14 cases of Sinicization, found that non-compliant religious structures have been raided and Christian symbols have been demolished; pastors and members of the congregation arrested, often deprived of due process as their trials are not transparent or open to the public. Many have not been heard from since their disappearance.
ICC reports that state-registered churches are at the mercy of laws that were passed entirely in contradiction to the Constitution and enforced by multiple departments, bureaus, and agencies using them to suppress in-house church activity, a church bookstore was forced to display Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book instead of the Bible. The CCP’s Administration for Religious Affairs also ordered Christians to study President Xi’s book and memorize his speeches. Churches have been turned into socialist propaganda centres and many have been shut down.
Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty and human rights, published a secret document leaked from Guangxi with “directives from upper government”, one of a series it claims have been sent to different provinces and regions. The translated document asks “elementary schools and kindergartens to make sure that pupils and teachers do not celebrate Christmas”, either at school or at home. The document says that Christmas, a western festival, is damaging to traditional Chinese culture, there is a number to report celebrants. It seems the General Secretary wanted further suppression of online religious content, thus SARA has just decreed that regulation of internet religious information services shall abide by the Constitution. From 1 March 2022 under the guise of protecting lawfulness, stopping illegality, restraining extremism, resisting infiltration and fighting crime, state religious affairs departments shall supervise and manage internet religious information services in accordance with the law. The so-called five authorised religions, Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and Taoism, must acquire an Internet Religious Information Service License in order to share anything, and only on their own websites, not on any social media. The criteria for obtaining such a licence are forensic, and what is allowed to be shared has to conform to eleven stipulations. Fundraising and religious imagery is out and no religious activities can be organised or carried out on the internet; religious ceremonies such as worshiping Buddha, burning incense, taking ordination, chanting, worship, mass, and baptism cannot be broadcasted live or recorded in the form of text, pictures, audio and video. Cyber security, national security departments and “public organs” will be involved in the scrutiny of the new regulations. Belief and worship are something the CCP cannot control, it can give 38 million Protestant Christians and the 165 million of mixed faiths courage and confidence to challenge authoritarianism, it makes the Central Committee vulnerable, they do not want religious expression or influence in China.
What a contrast to India where St Luke’s Church in Srinagar completed its restoration and was reopened for prayers; and in Kerala when the St George Orthodox Syrian Church Christmas carollers resumed their annual welcome at Thrikkannamangal Sri Krishnaswami Temple.