War on Christmas...in China? - SupChina

War on Christmas…in China?

Chinese conservatives who think Christmas is “spiritual opium” are asking the public to reject foreign holidays, but the people...well, they have other ideas

Video by Jia Guo

The War on Christmas might be over in the U.S. — thanks to Donald Trump, apparently — but it’s found a new battlefront in China, where conservatives have taken up arms against St. Nick and the deleterious effects of foreign culture.

Two weeks ago, Global Times reported on a university in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, that banned its student groups from organizing any “Western religious festivals, such as Christmas, on campus.” Not long after, a notice appeared in Shandong University asking all students to “resist Western religious holidays,” singling out Christmas Eve and Christmas in particular. In a bold turn of phrase that might even make Trump’s social media managers envious, a Chinese government body likened Christmas to “spiritual opium.”

In Beijing on Christmas Day, a group of middle-aged and elderly Chinese took to the streets near Houhai — a popular tourist area behind Tiananmen — to march against foreign holidays, all while merrily chanting: Resist foreign products. Support domestic products. Say no to Christmas. Celebrate Chinese holidays. Love the motherland. They even snuck in a Long live Chairman Mao.

Meanwhile, here’s a little girl leading her class in a chant of “Reject Western holidays, start with me. Inherit civilization, celebrate Chinese festivals.”

Is China rejecting Christmas?

Not exactly. More likely, the pushback really is against the religious elements of the holiday. As one observer puts it, “For many of China’s 60 million odd Christians, underground or over, Christmas is almost exclusively about religion. For the more devout, it is also primetime for evangelism. A gateway holiday, if you will, to find new believers. Party is very much keen to keep such sentiments out of universities, SOEs, etc.”

As for the pagan elements — lights and shopping, namely — these continue to flourish, at least in first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Chinese youth will use whatever excuse they can find to hit the streets and have fun, which one could see if they were out in Beijing’s nightlife districts on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. One Chinese response I heard to those Houhai protesters was, “Those groups are just a bunch of bored old people with nothing better to do.” And as one Chinese blogger wrote as part of a stirring defense of Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, sleighs, “dazzling presents,” and other symbols of Christmas:

Loving the country is one thing, teaching children to love their country is also fine, but you have to use the appropriate method, a scientific method, with a rational attitude. You can’t blindly tell children to resist, or tell them to be more somber. If you try to blindly educate them like this, they’ll just do the opposite, and it’ll harm their development.

(In China, as in the U.S., “think of the children” makes for a strong argument.)

Symbols of Christmas, such as Christmas trees and plastic Santas, adorn shopping malls:

Christmas in Beijing 3

Picture by Jady Liu

Picture by Jady Liu

They’re in hotel lobbies and on big screens:

Christmas in Beijing 5

Picture by Jady Liu

Christmas in Beijing 2

Picture by Jady Liu

They have provided backdrops to countless selfies:

Picture by Jady Liu

Christmas markets are being held every weekend, which Simone McCarthy wrote about last week.

And what do we make of this gigantic Santa shaking his booty on the side of a luxury hotel in Sanlitun?

Let’s not forget that as recently as 2014, an editorial ran in the online version of People’s Daily arguing that forbidding Christmas activities conveys a lack of confidence in one’s own culture. “Chinese people who observe Christmas aren’t commemorating Jesus, nor doing anything religious. So-called Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is nothing but an opportunity for friends and family to come together for some joy.” Maybe 2014 was simply a happier time, but the editorial continues: “Right now, world cultures are gradually mixing together. The [Chinese] education ministry should bestow upon students more opportunities to be inclusive, this will help their development in society, it will help our country’s culture blend with ‘foreign culture.'”

And look, here’s Xi Jinping sitting with Santa Claus:

Photo found and taken in Rovaniemi, Finland by SupChina‘s Jiayun Feng:

That’s a spirit we can all get behind. Check out our A China Christmas Story series for more.

This post was updated on 12/27, 5:50 am EST to include the People’s Daily editorial, Xi Jinping picture, and the observation about China’s Christians.

Anthony Tao

Anthony is the Asia managing editor of SupChina. Follow him @anthonytao

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