Why China’s war on Christmas is gathering pace

The authorities say they are worried about the spread of Western influence and its religious overtones, but many young Chinese just see it as a chance to shop and party

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 December, 2017, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 December, 2017, 6:33pm

Although China makes most of the world’s artificial Christmas trees, in many places wider celebrations of the festival have been banned by the country’s Communist authorities.

Last week members of the Communist Party’s Youth League at the University of South China in Hunan province were asked to sign a code of conduct which told them not to participate in Christmas-related celebrations, according to a statement circulating on Weibo on Wednesday.

“Communist Party members must be role models in abiding to the faith of communism. [Members are] not allowed to have superstitions and blindly follow the opium of Western spirits,” the statement, which was signed off by the Youth League said.

Photographs of the meeting suggested it took place on December 18.

Party members would be subject to disciplinary consequences if they or their direct relatives were found to be involved in religious activities on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, according to the statement.

Instead they were urged to hold events to promote “patriotic and traditional Chinese culture”.

Phone calls made to the University to verify the meeting went unanswered.

A student in Jiangsu province whose university had also banned celebrations on campus told the South China Morning Post that he was disappointed in the decision.

“I am not very convinced of the school’s excuse. Nobody relates Christmas to Western ideologies. Now I may not party with my friends in the school’s dorm because we are afraid that there will be inspections,” he said.

He also stated he had no idea about the relationship between Christmas and the Christian faith.

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Separately on December 15, state-run tabloid Global Times published an article reporting that the Youth League at Shenyang Pharmaceutical University in the northeastern province of Liaoning had banned student groups from organising on-campus events to mark Christian festivals such as Christmas to “build cultural confidence”.

Meanwhile in Hengyang, the second largest city in Hunan province, celebrating the religious festival is not only forbidden for members of the party but, according to an official Weibo account, members of the public are “banned from occupying streets for parties and celebrations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day”.

The latest edicts follow a series of earlier Chinese bans on Christmas celebrations.

In 2014, the state-run Beijing News reported that Modern College at Northwest University, located in Shaanxi province, had hung out banners reading “Strive to be outstanding sons and daughters of China, oppose kitsch Western holidays” and “Resist the expansion of Western culture” over Christmas.

Although Christmas is a public holiday across much of the world – especially where the majority or a sizeable minority of the population is Christian – this is certainly not the case in mainland China, where the ruling party is officially atheist.

However, in line with other countries where the more secular aspects of the holiday have become popular, the festival started to be more widely celebrated from the 1990s onwards as the opening up of the economy generated a thriving consumer culture.

Retailers looking to create a festive atmosphere in the hope of boosting spending started to adopt trimmings such as Christmas trees and decorations and began dressing sales staff in Santa Claus costumes.

According to China Skinny – a marketing research company – over 600,000 Christmas trees and three million decorations have been bought this year on T-mall.

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The e-commerce platform, owned by Alibaba, which also owns the South China Morning Post, offers a total of 20,000 Christmas-themed products.

China also produces over 60 per cent of the world’s plastic Christmas trees.

Liu Kaiming, head of the Institute of Contemporary Observation in Shenzhen, said he finds it absurd for local institutions to ban the celebration of Christmas because it is a “Western festival”.

“To Chinese people, this festival is not much different to the Singles' Day on November 11, it’s for shopping,” he said.

“China has long been using a Western calendar. We celebrate the New Year, Labour Day and Women’s Day based on Western origins. Are we going to ban all of them?” Liu said.

“This is China’s dilemma – it is largely opened up to globalisation now, but it also holds back from embracing full-scale globalisation because of domestic politics,” Liu continued.

“The recent political emphasis on the ‘revilatisation of Chinese culture’ from officials may have prompted local units to use this season as a chance to show loyalty by following the party line.”

In President Xi Jinping’s opening speech at the 19th Party congress in October, he said China must revitalise the nation’s culture.

Liu added that the introduction of a tougher version of the Regulations on Religious Affairs by the State Council. which will come into force on February 1, may also have prompted a crackdown on events with religious connotations.