Christian Calendars and Couplets Prohibited in Henan

Government officials are ringing in the Spring Festival – Chinese New Year – by clamping down on Christian literature.

Freedom of religion in China remains a pipe dream, and in Central China’s Henan Province, Christians are bearing the brunt of the crackdown as government officials are prohibiting the distribution of Christian calendars and couplets, on top of other means of religious persecution.

A believer, who requested anonymity, from De’en Church in Xigong district, under the jurisdiction of Luoyang city, told Bitter Winter that his church prepared a Christian calendar to be distributed to the members of the congregation at the end of 2018. But when they took it to the printer’s, the owner refused, saying he wouldn’t dare to print any religious materials.

“The government doesn’t allow printing of materials related to religions like Buddhism and Christianity. Sometimes, a small printing house secretly prints religious materials. As soon as the government catches them, a fine will be imposed. Formal printshops never dare to print [religious materials],” the manager of a medium-sized printing plant in Xigong district said. “Officials from the municipal and district-level Cultural Relics Management Office, Religious Affairs Bureau, News Bureau, and other departments often come to conduct inspections. If anyone is found [to have printed religious materials], they will be fined a large amount of money. The printshops that have been cracked down on and forcibly closed are not in the minority.”

Bitter Winter also visited a small printing house, where the manager said they’d long been prohibited from printing religious materials.

“A desk calendar or a picture to hang on the wall – we’re not allowed to print anything if it has any content related to Jesus,” the owner of the print shop said. “Personnel from the Bureau for Industry and Commerce frequently come to conduct inspections. They have always prohibited us from printing such things. If they discover that we have printed religion-related items, the government will punish us according to the quantity printed. Now, the control is even stricter. If anyone dares to print religious materials secretly and is caught, in minor cases, they will be fined, and their shops will be closed down; in severe cases, they will face the prospect of being detained.”

For believers at De’en Church, the authorities’ restrictive policies have not only prohibited them from printing and using Christian desk calendars but now posting religious couplets is also restricted.

In an attempt to thwart the sharing of Christian couplets, authorities have taken it upon themselves to visit churches and pass out secular couplets as gifts to believers and then demanded that the churches post them. This is precisely what happened when the deputy secretary of Sucun township in Lingbao county under the jurisdiction of Sanmenxia city visited Christians on Christmas Day.

The believers didn’t appreciate this.

“It’s like ‘a weasel giving New Year’s greetings to a chicken; they don’t have good intentions.’ The government is issuing couplets as a guise to stop us from believing in God!”

During the same period, authorities in Xin’an county, under the jurisdiction of Luoyang city, demanded that churches order a batch of Spring Festival couplets that embody the “core socialist values” and Chinese traditional culture and issue these couplets to the religious masses.

In an attempt to protest government orders, some churches have posted blank couplets. If the Christians can’t have couplets espousing their belief in God, they certainly won’t post the secular, government-issued ones.

“The government won’t let us post the church’s couplets, or else the church will be shut down. We were ordered to post the uniformly issued couplets. But we believe in God. Even if it means posting blank couplets, we shall not post the CCP’s couplets,” said one believer in Tangyin county, under the jurisdiction of Anyang city.

A church in Tangyin county posted a couplet with no characters on it.

But in reality, the ban on all religion-related symbols is nothing new to believers in China.

During last year’s Spring Festival, the CCP also placed strict restrictions on believers posting Christian couplets. Immediately, local governments across China launched campaigns to tear up and destroy them.

Bitter Winter obtained a confidential document issued by the Luoyang municipal government in early 2018, concerning a “special campaign implementation plan” for standardizing Christian affairs. The document demanded that a focus is placed on resolving many prominent issues that are visible, influential, and “floating on the surface.”

In other words: Stop all kinds of behavior of distributing couplets with religious connotations to society; investigate and punish according to law the sale of printed religious materials and all sorts of items that contain canonical doctrine; severely prohibit any illegal publishing activity related to religion; and crack down on unlawful printing, dissemination, sales and distribution of illicit religious publications and promotional materials.

After all, oppression is certainly one way to go into the Chinese New Year.