Villagers in southeast China have reportedly been told by local officials they will only receive aid if they profess their faith in the Communist Party and its leader.
Christianity has grown rapidly in China and “by some estimates Christians … now outnumber the 90 million members of the Party”, according to the South China Morning Post.
In March, Party officials visited the township of Huangjinbu in Jiangxi province, where one third of the population are Christians, and told people the Party could help solve their material problems.
Following the campaign the Post says around 600 villagers “converted”, replacing images of Jesus and other religious artefacts with portraits of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping.
Qi Yan, chairman of the Huangjinbu people’s congress and in charge of the township’s aid fund, told the Post: “Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses. 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.”
He denied claims that aid would be given only to those who “converted”, saying: “We only asked them to take down [religious] posters in the centre of the home. What we require is for them not to forget about the Party’s kindness at the centre of their living rooms. They still have the freedom to believe in religion, but in their minds they should [also] trust our Party.”
Sinicization of Christianity
A series of new regulations on religious affairs, passed in September, have given Xi greater control over how religion is practiced.
In his speech at the Communist Party Congress in October, Xi reiterated the importance of Chinese nationalism, saying the government would “uphold the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation, and provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to socialist society”.
World Watch Monitor has reported cases of Christian leaders who disappeared, were imprisoned and tortured, or harassed. Between 2013 and 2015 over 1,200 crosses were pulled down from churches in the prosperous eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, where there is a strong Christian presence.