Chinese officials are ordering residents who have images of Jesus Christ or crosses in their homes to take them down and replace them with pictures of Mao Zedong, the founder of China’s Communist Party, according to a new report.
The allegation was leveled in the online magazine Bitter Winter, which is published by the Center for Studies on New Religions, headquartered in Torino, Italy.
On Friday, Bitter Winter published a report that Christian symbols were under attack in Henan Province.
The publication cited the case of an 80-year-old man whose real name was withheld. When officials saw a cross on the wall, they told him to replace it with an image of either Mao or current Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“If we come back for inspection and find that you haven’t put up Chairman Mao’s portrait, we’ll cancel your poverty alleviation benefits,” Bitter Winter reported that its source quoted the Chinese officials as saying.
In Henan Province, authorities are going from town to town taking down Christian icons and replacing them with pictures of Chairman Mao and President Xi.
“Anyone who hangs up portraits of Jesus or pictures of crosses has to tear them down and replace them with portraits of Chairman Mao and Xi Jinping. This is the policy of the Central Committee,” one government official was quoted as saying.
According to the report, that incident followed one in Xiayi County in which the Communist Party’s regional committee secretary went ballistic at the number of crosses he saw and ordered them all removed. The government then sent a worker from house to house to ensure that all Christian symbols were removed.
Bitter Winter estimated that about 1,400 Christian items were destroyed in Xiayi County since February 2018. This included wiping out more than 200 Christian symbols and sayings across the ornamental gates of many homes.
The actions reported by Bitter Winter are part of China’s overall effort to stifle Christianity, one expert told The Guardian.
“The government has orchestrated a campaign to ‘sinicise’ Christianity, to turn Christianity into a fully domesticated religion that would do the bidding of the party,” said Lian Xi, a professor at Duke University in North Carolina.
“They have come to see the political potential of Christianity as a force for change,” Lian said. “What really makes the government nervous is Christianity’s claim to universal rights and values.”
Xi has said Chinese citizens must guard against “infiltration” from religions that are based outside of China.
Part of the crackdown has been a mass closure of so-called house churches, where Christians gather on a regular but informal basis.
“Those kinds of new attitudes have translated into different types of measures against Christians, which amount to intensified persecution of religious groups,” said Eva Pils, a professor of law at King’s College London.
The measures included increased bans on Christmas celebrations.
“Last year’s crackdown is the worst in three decades,” said Bob Fu of ChinaAid, a Christian advocacy group.
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