Chinese officials have told Christians living in poverty to replace religious images in their homes with portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping or lose government assistance, according to the South China Morning Post.
According to the report, Communist Party officials told Christians in Yugan county, a rural, impoverished area in southeast China, to remove religious artifacts from their living rooms and hang portraits of Xi in their place.
The order comes as part of a program described as an anti-poverty effort that also seeks to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.”
The report notes that the order “hearkens back to the era of the personality cult” surrounding the late Communist dictator Mao Zedong, whose portraits were once universally displayed in Chinese homes.
What did officials say?
Qi Yan, chairman of the Huangjinbu people’s Congress and the person responsible for the township’s poverty-relief efforts, said said the campaign has been in effect since March and villagers have used it “voluntarily.”
“Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses,” Qi said. “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.”
“Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their savior,” he continued. “After our cadres’ work, they’ll realize their mistakes and think: we should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help.”
He said officials have distributed more than 1,000 portraits of Xi, all of which have been hung in residents’ homes.
Qi said religious artifacts may still be hung in other areas of the home.
“We only asked them to take down [religious] posters in the center of the home,” he said. “They can still hang them in other rooms, we won’t interfere with that. What we require is for them not to forget about the party’s kindness at the center of their living rooms.”
“They still have the freedom to believe in religion, but in their minds, they should [also] trust our party,” he added.
What did residents say?
A Yugan county resident identified only as Liu said that many of his neighbors have recently been told to remove religious artifacts from their homes.
“Some families put up gospel couplets on their front doors during the Lunar New Year, some also hang paintings of the cross. But they’ve all been torn down,” he said.
Liu said the residents did not remove the images voluntarily but were coerced by the party.
“They all have their belief and, of course, they didn’t want to take them down,” he said. “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.”
According to Catholic News Service, a priest in northern China identified only as Father John, told ucanews.com that Xi has become "another Mao," and predicted that party officials in other areas of the country will launch similar programs.