China is cracking down on Christmas. Several cities, schools, and government institutions have ordered citizens not to celebrate the holiday and to instead focus on promoting traditional Chinese culture.
In the northern city of Langfang in Hebei province, city officials ordered all Christmas decorations to be cleared and forbade shops from selling Christmas-themed goods. Officials said the measure was aimed at “maintaining stability” and controlling street hawkers.
In Changsha, in central Hunan province, the education bureau last week issued a directive to schools not to celebrate “western festivals” such as Christmas, including putting up decorations, posting related messages or exchanging gifts. At least four Chinese cities and one county have issued a ban on Christmas decorations, according to Associated Press.
A teacher in Huangshan in Anhui province issued a reminder on Weibo on Christmas Eve to follow a recent notice from the propaganda department not to attend Christmas parties, post related messages on the popular messaging apps WeChat or QQ, or give teachers “peace apples”, a tradition in China. The term for Christmas Eve, pinganye, or peaceful night, is similar to that of the world “apple”.
Teachers should “strengthen the education of Chinese traditional culture for students and guide students to refuse overseas festivals such as Christmas”, the teacher posted on Weibo.
The notices come amid a broader crackdown on underground churches. Last week, police raided a children’s Bible class in Guangzhou. Earlier this month, authorities shut down the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, arresting 100 members. In September, China shut down one of the largest underground churches, Beijing’s Zion Church.
Chinese citizens are allowed to practise any of the five religions officially recognised by the government, which includes Protestantism and Catholicism. However, religious activities outside of officially sanctioned institutions is banned.
Observers say the restrictions are less about an attack on Christianity and more about how local governments are interpreting a directive from the ruling Communist party to promote traditional Chinese culture. The Chinese Communist party is officially atheist and, over the past year, has emphasised the need for party cadres to abandon religious attachments.
“Many other countries have already accepted China’s spring festival, which is reported in China as a victory of cultural export. By that logic, there should be no problem with Christmas in China,” Wuyue Sanren, a popular Chinese commentator, wrote online, referring to China’s new year celebration.
“It’s an issue of cultural confidence. As long as we are confident about our culture, we won’t be be afraid of your ‘western festivals’. If it’s fun, we’ll accept it,” he wrote.
For many in China, Christmas has little to do with religion. In Beijing, shopping centres were still decorated with Christmas decorations on Christmas Eve. As in western countries, the holiday is also a shopping event, with discounts on games, makeup and other goods.