Thousands of Christian villagers in China have been told to take down displays of Jesus, crosses, and gospel passages from their homes as part of a government propaganda effort to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.”
According to The South China Morning Post (SCMP), Communist Party of China (CPC) officials visited Chritian believers’ homes in Yugan county of Jiangxi province where about 10 percent of the population are Christians. They urged residents to replace personal religious displays with posters of President Xi Jinping; more than 600 removed Christian symbols from their living rooms, and 453 hung portraits of the Communist leader, according to SCMP.
The efforts were part of a government campaign to alleviate poverty in the region, since some CPC members believe families’ faith is to blame for their financial woes, according to SCMP. The poster swaps in villagers’ homes represent the party’s desire to have residents look to their leaders, rather than their Savior, for assistance.
“Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses,” the head of the government campaign told SCMP.
“But we tried to tell them that getting ill is a physical thing, and that the people who can really help them are the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi.”
Though the party denies the claim, some Christians in Yugan county say they were told they would not be eligible for government assistance unless their posters were removed.
A local social media account reported over the weekend that in Yugan’s Huangjinbu township, cadres visited poor Christian families to promote the party’s poverty-relief policies and helped them solve their material problems.
The officials successfully “melted the hard ice in their hearts” and “transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party”, the report said.
As a result, more than 600 villagers “voluntarily” got rid of the religious texts and paintings they had in their homes, and replaced them with 453 portraits of Xi.
The report had disappeared on Monday afternoon, but the campaign was confirmed by villagers and local officials contacted by the South China Morning Post.
Qi Yan, chairman of the Huangjinbu people’s congress and the person in charge of the township’s poverty-relief drive, said the campaign had been running across the county since March. He said it focused on teaching Christian families how much the party had done to help eradicate poverty and how much concern Xi had shown for their well-being.
“Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses,” Qi said.
“But we tried to tell them that getting ill is a physical thing and that the people who can really help them are the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi.”
Huangjinbu is home to about 5,000 to 6,000 Christian families, or about a third of the total, according to Qi.
“Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their saviour … After our cadres’ work, they’ll realise their mistakes and think: we should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help,” Qi said.
He said the township government had distributed more than 1,000 portraits of Xi, and that all of them had been hung in residents’ homes.
A resident of another township in Yugan, surnamed Liu, said that in recent months many of his fellow villagers had been told to remove religious artefacts from their homes.
“Some families put up gospel couplets on their front doors during the Lunar New Year, some also hang paintings of the cross. But they’ve all been torn down,” he said.
"Many believers did not do so voluntarily," Liu said. “They all have their belief and, of course, they didn’t want to take them down. But there is no way out. If they don’t agree to do so, they won’t be given their quota from the poverty-relief fund,” he said.
But Qi dismissed claims that the funds were contingent on the religious posters being removed.
“We only asked them to take down [religious] posters in the centre of the home. They can still hang them in other rooms, we won’t interfere with that. What we require is for them not to forget about the party’s kindness at the centre of their living rooms.”
It was not an either-or situation, Qi said. “They still have the freedom to believe in religion, but in their minds they should [also] trust our party.”
Under Xi, the party has tightened its grip on religious freedom throughout the country, ranging from removing crosses on Christian churches in eastern China to suppressing Islamic practices in the Uygur heartland of Xinjiang in the name of fighting terrorism and separatism.