The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is forcing people who are dependent on government aid to remove Christian imagery and images of Jesus from their homes. Instead, believers must display pictures of Chairman Mao Zedong and President Xi Jinping; those who refuse are penalized by losing their welfare benefits. This is according to the religious liberty magazine and watchdog group Bitter Winter.
“All impoverished households in the town were told to display Mao Zedong images,” a preacher from a house church in Shanxi province told Bitter Winter. “The government is trying to eliminate our belief and wants to become God instead of Jesus.”
No Religious Imagery, Images of Jesus
Officials in a town in Shanxi were instructed to “remove crosses, religious symbols and images from the homes of people of faith who receive social welfare payments” and to cancel the subsidies of anyone who resists. One member of a state-approved church in the area told the magazine, “Impoverished religious households can’t receive money from the state for nothing—they must obey the Communist Party for the money they receive.”
Shanxi is not the only province in China where Christians are reporting this type of persecution, and it is not only for religious imagery or images of Jesus that people are being denied financial aid. An 80-year-old woman in Jiangxi province lost her benefits simply because she said, “Thank God,” after she received her subsidy last January. The amount that the woman (who is a member of a state-approved church) received every month was around $28. In April, a disabled Christian in the same province lost a subsidy in the amount of $14.
One believer in the province of Shandong said that in May, an official came to his home to put up portraits of Mao and Xi. As he did so, the official said, “These are the greatest Gods. If you want to worship somebody, they are the ones.”
A Christian woman in her seventies from Henan province lost her government aid when officials found a cross on her front door. She said, “I am being driven to a dead end. I have diabetes and need injections regularly.” Another Christian woman from Henan had been receiving government aid for the past four years. The woman, who is a widow and is raising two sons, lost her benefits when she refused to deny her faith and get rid of the Christian imagery in her home.
This is not the first time the CCP has used money to pressure people to deny their faith, nor is it the first time the government has coerced citizens to worship party leaders over Jesus. Authorities were removing images of Jesus and replacing them with pictures of President Xi at least as early as 2017 in rural areas of the country. According to the South China Morning Post, one official said, “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.”
Villagers in Yugan county in Jiangxi were forced to take down 624 posters with Christian words and imagery and replace them with 453 pictures of President Xi. One man from the county said, “Some families put up gospel couplets on their front doors during the Lunar New Year; some also hung paintings of the cross. But they’ve all been torn down. 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.”
China is increasingly threatening religious freedom—not even the state-approved Three-Self Church is safe from the government’s interference. Many have noted that the CCP is building a cult of personality around Xi Jinping similar to that which surrounded Mao Zedong. Lily Tang Williams, a Chinese immigrant to the U.S., described to reporter and commentator John Stossel what it was like to grow up adoring Mao. “I was brainwashed,” she said. “Mao was like a god to me.”
At Open Doors’ press conference for its most recent World Watch List, Jian Zhu, the senior pastor of Chinese Christian Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, shared his perspective on the direction China is heading. The pastor also used to idolize Mao (before he became a Christian) and said the government’s recent restrictions on religious freedoms are the worst he has seen since 1979.
Open Doors president and CEO David Curry highlighted the danger China is posing to religious rights, saying, “China is creating what I believe is a ‘persecution roadmap’ against religious faith.”