The Christmas atmosphere this year in China was less than joyful, as online voices challenged local authorities who publicly boycotted and banned the Western festival.
Last Wednesday, university students in the central province of Hunan, where People's Republic of China founding father Mao Zedong was from, held an anti-Christmas pageant with banners declaring that “Chinese should not celebrate foreign festivals.” Some students later complained online that they actually were forced by the university authorities to wear traditional Chinese costumes and to display anti-Christmas banners. Education officials in the coastal city of Wenzhou issued a decree banning the celebration of Christmas-themed events at schools.
Students at a different university in northwestern China were forced to endure three hours of propaganda films, including one glorifying philosopher Confucius, as local media reported. Faculty members literally stood outside classrooms, making sure no one tried to sneak off to partake in illicit Christmas cheer.
“Be good Chinese boys and girls, and oppose adulation of foreign festivals,” read one banner strung across the campus of Modern College of Northwest University in Xi’an, home to the famed Terracotta Warriors.
Although controversies against increasingly popular western festivals have emerged from time to time, this surge of anti-Santa activities suggests that the Communist Party is continuing its campaign against Western values.
Christians in Wenzhou, a prosperous city with rapidly growing number of Christians in Zhejiang Province, have suffered regular crackdowns on church buildings. The policy statement issued by the local government suggests the campaign is actually aimed at regulating “overly popular” religious activities.
Christmas, nonetheless, has become big business in China, with retailers enjoying increasing sales in late December. Even if the holiday is largely devoid of its religious connotations, gift-giving among young Chinese is popular. For many young Chinese, Christmas is simply a lighthearted diversion that has little to do with religious faith.
But hard-line traditionalists and Communist doctrinaires say the growing prevalence of Christmas has been manipulated by outside forces to subvert the Party’s ruling and traditional Chinese culture.
News portal site Sina highlighted the story of a speech by the head of China’s State Bureau of Religious Affairs, who visited two churches in Beijing before Christmas and told the religious personnel that they should make sure that the content of Christianity is consistent with socialist core values as well as resist the infiltrative activities of outside forces through Christianity.
Celebrities with a Christian background have become the target of state media attacks. For example, military newspaper People Liberation Army Daily accused popular Christian actor Sun Haiying on its Twitter-like Weibo account of slandering Party founders like Mao Zedong and asked, “Can a Christian play the role of an excellent Communist?” Newspaper Global Times labelled Sun as “the third weapon” of disseminating American political ideas and values in the cloak of Christianity to topple China, following weapons of universal values and constitutionalism.
The anti-Christmas and anti-Christianity activities were quickly met with a wave of refutations and scorn on Weibo, including from some popular commentators and intellectuals.
Popular writer “Fat man Tian You” criticized that the anti-Christmas activities were essentially a politically ideological campaign aiming to continue brainwashing students:
Is forbidding young people from enjoying Christmas just a weird university regulation? No, it’s the political movement against the trend. Actually what they want to boycott is not Christmas, but Western thinking. Because once the Christian thoughts of equality and fraternity are accepted by university students, the conservative power's brainwashing will lose its effect. Once the students have independent ideas, they will not be tools manipulated by conservative power. Then the conservative power will lose their privileges.
Zhao Xiao, a popular economist and a Christian, raised concerns over the material culture surrounding Christmas and spoke highly of missionaries disseminating modern civilization to China:
What should be more discussed is how Christmas should be spent. All of the traditional festivals have some meanings of religion. Now these festivals have become so materialistic and commercial that they stray far from their original holy meanings.
He further explained the history of Christianity in China:
Christianity was introduced into China when Western colonialism expanded, so it has been connected with colonialism and imperialism. Overall, most of the missionaries came to China with beliefs. To be fair, it’s this group of ‘outside forces’ who have constantly penetrated into China for the love of God and of China that eventually brought modern civilization to China.
Lei Yi, a famous historian with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, mocked the anti-Western camp:
Some people even don’t know that ‘Sunday’ is originally ‘the day to go to church’. Let’s resist it because it’s not a Chinese tradition. We should go to work and school everyday, right? Some people interested in this could write a thesis: A study on the encroachment of Western culture and colonial culture: How the custom of ‘Sunday’ was introduced to China.
Zhang Ming, a well-known politician at Renmin University, questioned that authorities don't seem worried about some corrupt officials who could bring down China, and instead targeted an actor as a potential enemy:
Is it an actor who could be the weapon that topples China, and not [former security tsar] Zhou Yongkang, [former vice president of Liberation Army] Xu Caihou, or [aid to former General Secretary Hu Jingtao] Ling Jihua? Isn't the TV drama “The Passionate Times” in which he acted in line with the ideology of the current socialist regime? Could he bring down China just by posting some microblogs? Do you smear the Chinese government as too weak?