The Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece, Global Times, published an editorial on Christmas Eve inviting international China observers to spend their holiday in China [zh] to witness how Chinese people celebrate Christmas all over the country.
This editorial was in response to the mounting criticism that China does not have religious freedom. According to China Aid's report, at least 1289 arrests by Chinese authorities in 2011 were linked to religious prosecution.
Despite the bold Global Times editorial, netizens reported that the entrances of a few churches were blocked during Christmas this year. Moreover, China's minority Muslim Uyghur community, appalled by the editorial, dared the Global Times to invite observers to the Xinjiang region for their Muslim festival.
Consumption freedom is not religious freedom
Most netizens immediately pointed out the fallacy of the Global Times’ editorial in reducing religious freedom to secular Christmas celebration. Below are some instant reactions from a news threads [zh] on China's microblogging site Sina Weibo:
铭格格-洛桑卓玛：In the shallow view of the Global Time editor Hu Shijun, a commercial festival is equal to religious freedom, touristic visits to churches and temples is equal to religious freedom…
彭勇-AARON：This is freedom of consumption, don't connect it with religious freedom.
Ironically, netizens found out that some churches had been blocked and sealed off during Christmas eve. On December 24, 2012 in Tianjin city Deci celestial reported [zh]:
The festival mood was strong and I took a ride to the Xikai church near Bingjiang road. All the entrances to the church had been blocked. Eventually I located a secret entrance by following the A4 paper size instruction stuck on some electric poles. On the way, there were at least 5 blockades set up by the police.
On 25 December a large number of Christians protested in Xian city, Shaanxi Province because their church had been blocked. Liagyage uploaded some photos described the situation:
[The photos show] The entrance of the church that has been sealed off; a road that was blocked. While the whole world is celebrating, the people here are siting on the ground, crying on a cold winter night? Why is that so?
天行者68th：In places where people gathered, where they could not be governed by their [the authorities’] lies, is now forbidden territory.
染香姐姐：They are so stupid. Blocking the church under the sun is forcing people to believe in evil cults. When activities are happening in the dark, it will generate sin and crime. If China can allow open and public preaching, religious activities will not turn into cults.
西葫芦馅儿：It is a luxury to hold to any belief in this country.
实习奋青：Better believe in money in this land.
House Churches are “evil cults”
In China, all Protestant activities have to be under the coordination of the Three-self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China, which is under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Other Christian sects, in the form of House Church, are considered illegal and vulnerable to crack down. People outside the Christian circle tend to believe that religious activities outside the Three-self Churches are evil cults. Opinions like the following one coming from 詹姆-兰尼斯特 [zh] unfortunately are not uncommon:
I don't believe in this news [blocking of church in Xian]. All churches are properties of the Church and in China they are owned by the Three-self Patriotic Churches. The government will not block its own branch? It is very likely that the blocked one is a House Church. In this case, I would say “fxxk off, you stinking evil cults!”
Invite observers to Muslim festivals
The Uyghur community in China also finds Global Times's editorial problematic. Ulghurbiz.net wrote a commentary challenging Global Times and inviting observers to Xinjiang for Muslim celebration:
The Global Times’ editorial is full of fallacies. It turns young Chinese people's consumption of a “western festival” into evidence of freedom of Christianity culture in China. Will the government loosen control if Christmas was not a consumption holiday? The increase in the number of Christians in China is mainly a reaction to the loss of core values in this country. People want to seek comfort from religion. Does it have anything to do with the government's open policy? We need systematic debate on this. If western media criticizes the repression of Muslim religious activities in China on the eve of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, will Global Times dare to publish an editorial “Skeptics of Religious Freedom in China, please go to Xinjiang for the Festival”?