China’s Government is cracking down on Christmas festivals across the country
The seasonal humbug follows similar anti-Christmas rhetoric in 2014 and 2017. (AP: Ng Han Guan)
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Christmas is celebrated as a shopping festival across most of China, with huge trees adorning shopping malls in Shanghai and Beijing, but a growing emphasis on traditional culture by the ruling Communist Party and the systematic suppression of religion under President Xi Jinping has imperilled Santa Claus’s position in the holiday.
- The Communist Party is trying to position itself as a crusader for Chinese tradition
- China’s Government has also imprisoned Uyghur Muslims in re-education camps
- Despite Government efforts, young people in China are still embracing Christmas
At least four Chinese cities and one county have ordered Christmas decorations banned this year, according to official notices and interviews.
Students, teachers and parents from 10 schools around China told The Associated Press that Christmas celebrations have been curtailed.
“The ongoing local reaction against Christmas is part of the wider sentiment since Xi took power,” said Zi Yang, a China expert at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
Mr Xi is trying to broaden the appeal of the Communist Party by casting it as a crusader for Chinese tradition in a fast-changing world, he said.
“Therefore, foreign cultural elements such as Christmas are placed on the chopping block.”
The seasonal humbug follows similar outbreaks of anti-Christmas rhetoric in 2014 and 2017.
It appears not to be centrally organised, but rather a spreading resistance to foreign festivals by local authorities seeking to align themselves with the growing tide of cultural nationalism.
The squeeze on Christmas is an example of how efforts to “normalise” thinking bleed into the everyday lives of many Chinese.
That push exploded into view this year through re-education camps for Uyghur Muslims and a crackdown on Christian churches that has continued with force in recent weeks.
‘Adherence to Chinese traditional culture’
Hengyang’s police warned that anyone caught holding Christmas sales that blocked the streets would be punished. (AP: Ng Han Guan)
Officials in Hengyang, a city in Hunan province, said in a December 19 notice posted on an official government social media account that anyone caught holding Christmas sales or celebrations that blocked the streets would be punished.
Communist Party members, the notice said, should avoid foreign festivals and instead be “models of adherence to Chinese traditional culture”.
Hengyang police posted a video on their official social media account of locals discussing the importance of Chinese culture and plans to avoid ostentatious Christmas celebrations.
Langfang, a city just south of Beijing, banned Christmas stage performances and merchandising promotions, according to a notice circulated on social media.
Shop windows were to be stripped of Christmas stickers and streets kept free of Christmas banners and lights.
Law enforcement patrols were to be stepped up December 23-25 to prevent illegal signs of celebration.
The Langfang urban management bureau declined comment.
The Christmas season shopping festival is still popular, particularly among China’s youth. (AP: Ng Han Guan)
The state-run Global Times newspaper argued that Western media were exaggerating China’s crackdown on Christmas and reported that the restrictions in Langfang were aimed not at Christmas but at cleaning up roadside stalls and migrant vendors in hopes of winning a “National Civilised City” award from the Communist Party.
Some 270 kilometres west, Fuping county, also in Hebei province, issued a similar clean-up notice.
Though the December 21 announcement mentions Christmas 11 times, an official from the Fuping urban management bureau said the rules were aimed at street vendors generally, not Christmas.
Police in the Panlong district of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southern China, circulated a notice that hotels, karaoke parlours, internet cafes, bars and other crowded places must prohibit Christmas-related decorations and activities.
Students resist the crackdown
Students on one campus found ways to circumvent the Christmas ban while planning celebrations. (Ng Han Guan)
Students have taken to social media to complain about restrictions on Christmas celebrations at their schools.
At a top Shanghai university, a student union had its Christmas plans cancelled for the first time, an organiser told AP on condition of anonymity, fearing rebuke.
The students came up with a solution: By replacing “Christmas” with “New Year’s” in their activity proposal and changing the date from December 25, it sailed past school administrators.
Liu Kaiming, president of the Institute of Contemporary Observation, a civil society group in the city of Shenzhen, said that despite the drumbeat of official discontent, Christmas cheer continued to spread in China.
“The sound of resistance is more powerful on the surface, but it has no practical effect,” he said.
“Young people’s enthusiasm for the festival is ever-increasing.”