International Christian Concern | June 18, 2020
As noted by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the Chinese government has long imposed highly restrictive conditions on religious schools and has prohibited the participation of children younger than 18 in religious activity. In recent months, however, the CCP has accelerated the effort to restrict religious belief in schools in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in accordance with Xi Jinping’s campaign to Sinicize religion.
In an earlier article, ICC discussed the recent demolition of the Xingguang Church, where several hundred public security officers raided a house church and associated school in the province of Fujian. Members of the congregation were harassed by government officials, particularly with regard to their children’s education at the Christian school. The authorities in Xingguang demanded that the children be sent to government-run schools; yet, members of the congregation expressed fear of the schools: “We worry that our children will have to become young pioneers and will be indoctrinated with atheism. . . These schools prevent children from having their thoughts and tell them only to listen to the CCP.”
The destruction of the Christian school in Xingguang is one of many such incidents under the CCP, as the Party intensifies its crackdown on religious belief and activity in both children’s education and religious institutions.
In response to the CCP’s direction, many local governments have begun implementing measures to prevent the spread of religious belief in education. In a previously published article, ICC discussed the measures taken by an Education Bureau in a northeastern locality to follow President Xi Jinping’s instructions to protect against “foreign religious infiltration” and “consolidate the CCP’s ruling foundations.” These efforts included a comprehensive anti-religion propaganda campaign and the investigation of the religious affiliations of teachers and students.
In another region, a local government ordered increased surveillance of foreign teachers, increased supervision of students involved in academic exchange programs, and the investigation of educational organizations with foreign ties.
The demolition of Christian schools, the investigation of educational institutions for “foreign religious infiltration,” and the circulation of anti-religious propaganda in schools and online corresponds with a recent rise in the “extreme patriotic education” of children in mainland China.
On May 31st, the CCP’s Ministry of education demanded that schools facilitate the study of a letter from Xi Jinping concerning children’s Day, directing schools 1) “continuously strengthen” the students’ “love for socialism,” 2) bear witness to the “great feats” of the Chinese people in overcoming Covid-19, and to ready themselves for the realization of the “Chinese dream of great national rejuvenation.” This order is part of a larger ‘patriotic education’ campaign by the CCP, begun following the Tiananmen Square massacres in 1989 and redoubled in 2019 in response to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
As a part of this so-called patriotic education, the CCP instituted “red patriotism courses” in schools throughout mainland China. Under President Xi Jinping, children as young as kindergarten are guided in the veneration of China’s revolutionary past, and are taught to “worship the CCP, revere the socialist system, oppose democratic thoughts, and harbor hatred toward Western countries.” Thus, through childhood education, the CCP is attempting to co-opt the religious fervor it otherwise suppresses and to channel it into pseudo-Maoist nationalism.
The CCP is pursuing the same agenda of socialist Sinicization with regard to state-authorized religious institutions. On this point, the local government prerequisites for the resuming religious meetings in the wake of COVID-19 are particularly revealing. For many churches, reopening depends upon executing some of the following: 1) Public prayer for the fruition of some of President Xi Jinping’s political slogans, 2) testimony bearing witness to the “superiority of the socialist system” through the presentation of a “vivid and touching story of fighting the pandemic,” 3) sermons praising the Chinese government and President, including “information on how many Christians have died in the US during the pandemic,” and even 4) essay writing by clergy and members to express “love for the country and Communist party,” in accordance with core socialist values.
The Chinese government is using COVID-19 to push religion even further from its state-authorized churches. In its place, churches are directed to spread nationalistic sentiment and propaganda.
While severely restricting all religious activity, indoctrinating children, spreading anti-religious propaganda, and engaging in atrocious abuses of religious minorities like the Uighurs, the CCP also mandates that the few religious institutions it permits to meet shower the Chinese government with praise, prayer, and patriotic testimony from their pulpits. As the United States navigates growing tensions internationally, we should keep in mind this hypocritical effort to replace religious worship with state worship.