China Bans 'Un-Chinese' Christmas Celebrations in Schools, Colleges


2014-12-25
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china-xmas-boycott-dec-2014.jpg University students wearing traditional Chinese outfits hold a banner calling on people to 'Resist Christmas' in Changsha, Hunan province, Dec. 24, 2014.
AFP

While many Chinese people have welcomed Christmas this week as a religious holiday or an excuse to shop and party, the officially atheist ruling Chinese Communist Party appears to be growing nervous over the tendency to import "Western culture."

In the eastern province of Zhejiang, the Wenzhou education bureau has issued a directive banning the region's schools and kindergartens from holding Christmas events, while a university in the northwest of the country dismissed the festival as "kitsch" and un-Chinese.

"Primary schools and kindergartens should not hold any Christmas-related events on campus," the directive from the Wenzhou authorities leaked on social media on Thursday said.

"All class leaders should keep an eye on the attitude of classmates, and ensure that monitoring is carried out at class level," it said. "Spot checks will be carried out by the education bureau and the schools district authorities."

The directive was tweeted by user @QYEDqiyiendian in Wenzhou's Pingyang county, who commented wryly in a reference to the party-backed political turmoil and "struggle sessions" of 1966-1976: "Are we in the run-up to the Cultural Revolution?"

An employee who answered the phone at a high school in Pingyang county confirmed the directive was genuine, and said it applied across the country.

"Haven't you seen the news? It is the same across higher education in China, nationwide," the employee said.

"This is a foreign import," the employee said. "It's not a [Chinese] tradition."

"Didn't you see the speech made by [President] Xi Jinping? He wants to nurture traditional Chinese culture," the employee said.

"Once a nation loses its own roots, then on what basis does it exist, develop or prosper?"

While China's estimated 46 million Christians celebrate Christmas, often in the face of official raids and harassment, the secular, consumer-oriented side of the holiday is also becoming popular around the figure of Santa Claus, particularly among younger people.

However, the majority of Chinese won't be making a special, and often exhausting, trip back home to eat a special meal with their families until the traditional Chinese New Year holiday, which falls this year on Feb. 19.

'China's Jerusalem'

A Wenzhou Protestant church member surnamed Wang said the directive had been issued across Wenzhou, which is home to so many Christians it has been dubbed "China's Jerusalem."

"This is the same across Wenzhou, because they want to boycott Western culture, I think that's more or less the idea," Wang said.

According to the U.S.-based Christian rights group China Aid, hundreds of Protestant churches in Zhejiang have been targeted for demolition in the past year.

The actions against churches in Zhejiang are all connected to the province's "Three Rectifications and One Demolition" campaign, which claims to target all illegal structures, the group said in a report on its website.

The campaign calls on local officials to take action to "demolish illegal structures that violate laws and regulations, occupy farmland, affect public safety and major construction, seriously affect urban and rural planning, and those that are located on both sides of main lines of transportation," it said.

Wang said the demolitions are still continuing over the festive season.

"They are continuing these demolitions across Zhejiang," he said. "They are pretty much done in the south of the province."

In the southern city of Shenzhen rights activist Guo Yongfeng said it is hard for the authorities to regulate what people do in their own homes or with friends, however.

"It doesn't matter whether you believe in Christianity or whether you recognize Christmas as a holiday, it's definitely a fashionable topic," Guo said.

"Christianity is spreading, and no one can stop it."

"The authorities think they can regulate large-scale events by exerting pressure on them ... but there are too many of them, and they are everywhere," Guo said. "The government doesn't even know where to start."

Cultural suspicions

Beijing-based pastor Liu Fenggang said a deep suspicion of cultural imports has always been part of Communist Party thinking.

"They have always tried to boycott so-called Western culture, because they think the West is trying to infiltrate China using religion," Liu said.

"And for this generation of leaders, nothing is too small in terms of religious affairs, for them to control," he said.

The fear of foreign ideas has led to the unlikely rehabilitation of Confucius, once a top ideological enemy for the Communist Party.

In September, President Xi gave a speech on the sage's birthday, praising the ancient virtues of Confucian thought as the guiding light of modern China.

According to Beijing-based Protestant believer Xu Yonghai, Christmas isn't necessarily incompatible with traditional Chinese values, however.

"The core ideas of Confucius are all about mutual benevolence and brotherly love, which has a lot in common with other religions [including] Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity," Xu said.

"If they are going to endorse traditional Confucian thinking, this is actually very close to Christian thinking ... so they are trying to propagate the same thing in the end," he said.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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