Chinese authorities have banned members of the Chinese Communist Party from celebrating Christmas, calling the religious day “Western spiritual opium” and “China’s day of shame.”

“As Christmas nears, leaders and members of all ranks must promote traditional Chinese culture and build a spiritual home for the Chinese people,” said a notice issued last week by the Commission for Discipline Inspection of Hengyang city in the Hunan province, screenshots of which were provided to US-backed media outlet RFA.

china christmas
Workers install Christmas decorations inside the main entrance of a residential complex in Beijing on December 6, 2017. Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri.

Warning that anyone who attends religious activities on Christmas will have to bear responsibility, the notice said: “Party members must observe the belief of communism and are forbidden to blindly worship the Western spiritual opium.”

Instead, it asked members to study the speeches of Chinese President Xi Jinping, in order to “build a new glorious chapter of the Chinese culture.” Members were also encouraged to spread the idea to their families, friends and colleagues.

‘Resist cultural corrosion’

State tabloid Global Times reported on another notice published by the Hengyang Public Security Bureau, announcing the ban and calling on members to build a good image of Party officials.

It said Hengyang was not an isolated case. A Beijing resident who works in a state-owned company told the outlet that she received the same notice, but she said this had never happened before.

Meanwhile, the Anhui division of China’s powerful Communist Youth League published a post on WeChat, saying that China was once invaded by westerners. It denounced Christmas as “China’s day of shame,” according to the Global Times.

In a widely circulated notice released last week by the youth league’s Shenyang Pharmaceutical University branch, student groups were banned from holding any activities related to Western religious holidays such as Christmas.

Notice of the Christmas ban. Photo: Weibo/T大漠鱼T.

It said the ban was imposed to help party youths develop their own “cultural confidence,” so that they can “resist cultural corrosion by Western religions.”

Despite the ban, a festive event called “Christmas run” was held in the northeastern city of Shengyang last weekend, just days after the Shengyang youth league issued the notice. The annual event, where participants dress up as Santa Claus and run in the city, has become popular in recent years.

But the ban was reportedly extended to the general public in some regions in China. Chinese pastor Jonathan Liu posted on social media a notice released on Thursday by the security bureau of the Gansu province, requesting that Christmas decorations be removed from public spaces.

All scheduled Christmas events must also be cancelled, according to the notice.

China’s government keeps tight controls on religious activities and only allows officially-sanctioned groups to operate. Authorities have arrested a number of pastors following their opposition to the removal of publicly-displayed crosses in China.

There are also signs that Xi Jinping is seeking greater power by controlling the grand narrative for Chinese society. During China’s 19th party congress in October, Xi’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” was enshrined in the party constitution. China expert Orville Schell told the Guardian that the move meant that Xi was seeking “some kind of immortality.”

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.