In Shanghai the “basic values of socialism” are exalted on the pediment of the church. A painting of the Last Supper removed in Henan. Communities forced to sing patriotic hymns. Shaolin Monastery in Shaoshan must hold a flag-raising ceremony every morning. “The churches seem more and more like government offices”.
In the name of the sinicization, to create a Christianity with “Chinese characteristics”, the government authorities are burning crosses on the bell towers, replacing them with the red flags of China; slogans praising the Party and the values of socialism are exposed on religious buildings, erasing sacred images, that are considered too Western.
In recent days in Henan, the cross of a Protestant church was burned in Anyang, Shuiyi County; another was demolished in Hebei; another one in Luoyang has been replaced with the red flag. Even a Catholic center in Anyang had to display the flag.
In a church in the province, the authorities demanded the removal of the cross, paintings with calligraphy of verses from the Bible and a painting of the Last Supper.
Similar events also take place in Jiangxi. Testimonies gathered by Chinaaid in Xinyu County say that churches are forced to wave the national flag, to display a picture of President Xi Jinping and slogans praising socialism. Many crosses have been destroyed, including that of the evangelical church of Jieken.
At least 40 churches in Shangrao have been forced to display banners that prohibit the preaching of non-Chinese people and prohibit entry to young people under the age of 18.
In Zhejiang, in Leqin, the authorities have forced the churches to exalt the Chinese Communist Party, by singing patriotic anthems at a flag-raising ceremony and pushing for concerts with nationalist programs.
In the Pudong region of Shanghai, the Xuanqiao’s Church of Jesus Christ had to display the slogan on the “basic values of socialism”.
Dozens of domestic churches have been closed in Shenyang (Liaoning) and Xuzhou (Jiangsu) forcing communities to join the Three-Self Movement, the official government controlled Protestant community.
Sinicization, the slogan launched by Xi Jinping, aims to force all religions to assimilate Chinese culture and above all to submit to the authority of the Communist Party. According to many Chinese faithful, “under the mantle of patriotism, religions are being emptied of the elements of their faith and are seen as political instruments at the service of the government and the Party”. A Catholic comments to AsiaNews: “At this stage, with the red flags, the patriotic songs, the ban on young people taking part, the churches seem more and more like government offices”.
by Wang Zhicheng
A new prison for the Church in China: Sinicisation
By the end of August, all the dioceses of China have to present a five-year plan (2018-2022) to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) on how they can implement the sinicisation, commissioned by Xi Jinping.
For this reason, the CCPA and the BCCCC have drafted a national ”Five-Year Plan,” which serves as a model and inspiration “to advance the Catholic Church’s accession to China towards the sinicisation.”
The National Five-Year Plan augments the physical control over members of the Church (bishops, priests, laity), also control over culture, theology, social doctrine, art, architecture, liturgy. This Plan is a political and non-religious document.
The word “Jesus Christ” is mentioned once only in the 15-page document; the word “Gospel” four times; but the term “Communist Party” is mentioned five times and the word “National Patriotic Association” fifteen times.
The entire Church in China, official and underground, is about to enter a new, great prison through one magic word: sinicisation, assimilation into Chinese culture and society and, above all, submission to the Party.
It will allow the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) to control not only people (bishops, priests, faithful), but also what they think and the fruit of their thinking: historical records and interpretations, theology, social doctrine, architecture, sacred art and even liturgical books and liturgy. In short, a political colonisation of the minds and consciences of Chinese Catholics.
The English translation of this five-year nation plan has been published by UCAN news agency; the text in Chinese came from Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.
The theme of sinicisation was launched by Xi Jinping as early as May 2015. After an analysis of the situation, in which the Chinese Communist Party feared a similar fate to that of the USSR, on May 20, 2015, in a meeting with the United Front, Xi decreed that religions must “sinicise” if they want to stay in China. The same theme was reiterated at a national meeting on religious affairs in April 2016, and also turned up in the footnotes of the intervention on religions at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (NCCPC) in October 2017.
In all these interventions, Xi places sinicisation in a relational context with submission to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with independence from foreign religious powers or policies (including the Vatican), with the strengthening of “democracy” in religious decisions (divesting religious authorities of all power).
National Five-Year Plan extends the fields of sinicisation
The National Five-Year Plan extends the field of sinicisation by enveloping not only the physical control of the members of the Church, but also the cultural, theological and liturgical control.
In the original 15 pages of the document, divided into Nine chapters, it addresses not only the subject of submission to the CCP (n.2) and adherence to socialism with “Chinese characteristics,” but also the integration of Catholicism with Chinese culture (No. 4); the development of a theology with Chinese characteristics; re-reading the history of the Church in China through the lens of sinicisation (No. 5); exploring liturgical expressions with Chinese elements (No. 6); how to sinicise architectural works, paintings and sacred music (No. 8).
All this must take place under the supervision of the NPA and the BCCC, founding avant-garde theological academies, centres of historical study, institutes of Chinese Catholic culture, liturgical centres, all subjected to the leadership of the NPA and the BCCC who exercise control, supervision, evaluation, to “correct,” “create consensus,” “oppose those who oppose.”
At this point one may ask: is such a sinicisation still Catholic?
Above and beyond the fact that the Catholic Church in China must “accept the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party” (No. 2, 3) how could one escape the omnipotent and omniscient system of control and power? Moreover, what about the “implementation of the core values of socialism as well as the strengthening their own base to push forward with evangelisation and pastoral work” (No. 2,2)? What is the purpose of Benedict XVI’s question in his Letter to Chinese Catholics, in which he asked for the freedom to work in society by working “for justice” (Letter, No. 4)? What about this “forced sinicisation,” in which a vanguard creates models that others must apply, “opposing those who oppose?”
The problems from the Catholic point of view
From the Catholic point of view there are two problems: the first is that — as Pope Francis affirms in the Evangelii Gaudium (no. 115 et seq.) — inculturation is something entrusted to the entire Holy People of God (and not to a select few, however enlightened). The second is that in matters of inculturation the People of God must be left free and not forced.
The “sinicisation” project — that is, to insert the proclamation of the Gospel into the Chinese culture — the different spheres of the life of the Church is to be applauded and shared. But it must be said that this commitment is what Christians have been trying to do from the first proclamation in China (which is that of the Syrian Christians of the seventh century, not mentioned in the document, which instead mentions the Jesuits of the Ming and Qing era).
A controversial point is the one on Christian buildings that must increasingly reflect Chinese style (as the nuncio Celso Costantini had already recommended 100 years ago). But Catholics — in freedom — may also like Western-style buildings. To make a secular comparison, the Shanghai rich — and members of the Party — prefer skyscrapers designed by foreign architects and even the buildings of the Bund, that of the old concessions, have become among the most expensive buildings in the metropolis.
The document states “view that styles of church structures, painting and sacred music must be westernised should be changed” (No. 8, 1), but it is conceded that it is possible to construct buildings in Chinese and Western style. Yet, in recent months we are witnessing the iconoclasm of local governments in Henan, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang where churches and decorations are destroyed because they were “Western.”
The fear is that this momentum towards the sinicisation is only a chain and a control over the theological, historical, social, artistic works of Catholics.
It is evident that such control leads to partiality, seen in the fact that several Catholic cultural centres have begun to enthusiastically study Catholic and Protestant personalities who have condemned or opposed the Japanese colonisation of China.
Unfortunately, nothing is heard about the lives of Catholics during the early period of Mao and during the Cultural Revolution and the persecution and murder of bishops, priests and laity. Soon we will have history books duly sterilised and adapted to the wishes of the prince, according to the imperial Chinese tradition.
The deep impression that this document makes is that of a political manifesto with very little religious or theological subject matter. And even if it constantly quotes both “NPA and BCCC,” the power lies completely with the “NPA.”
By Bernardo Cervellera