‘One more Christian, one less Chinese’: official vows to rid faith of Western influences
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A senior Chinese official who oversees state-sanctioned Christian churches has pledged to rid the Protestant faith in China of any Western “imprint,” calling for further “sinicization” of religion.

Xu Xiaohong, chairman of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a government-controlled body that runs state-approved Protestant churches, on Monday attacked what Beijing perceived as “Western influence.”

“[We] must recognize that Chinese churches are surnamed ‘China,’ not ‘the West’,” Xu told delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

“The actions by anti-China forces that attempt to affect our social stability or even subvert the regime of our country are doomed to fail,” he said.

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We must recognize that Chinese churches are surnamed ‘China,’ not ‘the West’

- Xu Xiaohong, National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement

Xu’s speech was scripted to demonstrate support for President Xi Jinping’s campaign to “sinicize” religion.

The campaign has sparked international condemnation because of intensified repression of believers, especially Protestants, Catholics and Muslims, whom the party fears could become tools of foreign influence or ethnic separatism.

It has coincided with a sweeping security and religious crackdown in the far western region of Xinjiang, where an estimated one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are reported to be held in internment camps for political indoctrination.

A sign warning against ‘uncivilized behavior’ in the main bazaar in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

A sign warning against ‘uncivilized behavior’ in the main bazaar in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. Photo: Bloomberg

For the officially atheist Communist Party, the sinicization campaign is an attempt to place religion under its absolute control and bring it into line with Chinese culture.

According to a five-year plan to sinicize Protestant churches released by the Chinese religious authorities, efforts to make the faith more “Chinese” included a new translation and annotation of the Bible.

It also demanded Chinese traditional culture be integrated into liturgy, sacred music, clerical clothing and church buildings. Examples given included using traditional Chinese tunes to compose hymns and encouraging Christians to practice calligraphy and Chinese painting.

China is planning on a new, more ‘Chinese’ translation of the Bible.

China is planning on a new, more ‘Chinese’ translation of the Bible. Photo: Xinhua/Sun Can

In China, Protestantism and Catholicism are two of the five officially recognized religions. “Christianity” and “Protestantism” are translated as the same term in Chinese and often conflated, while “Catholicism” has a separate translation.

“In modern times, Christianity was spread widely to China along with the colonial invasion of Western powers, and was therefore called a ‘foreign religion’,” Xu said on Monday, striking a nationalist tone to underline the need for sinicization.

“Some believers lack national consciousness, and that’s why we have the saying: ‘one more Christian, one less Chinese’.”

According to Xu, attempts to sinicize Christianity began before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Xu Xiaohong wants Christian faith in China purged of Western influences.

Xu Xiaohong wants Christian faith in China purged of Western influences. Photo: Xinhua/Ding Haitao

He hailed the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 and the anti-Christian movement of 1922-1927 – both characterized by large-scale violence against Christianity and foreigners – as examples of such efforts.

In China, all religious organizations, including churches, must be approved by the government, with their activities strictly regulated and monitored.

Over the past year, a wave of underground congregations – including the Zion Church in Beijing and Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, both prominent “house churches” – have been forced to shut, with their members and pastors interrogated and detained.

“We all know very well that in comparison to other religions, Protestantism in China carries a heavier historical burden and faces greater pressure from reality in its push for sinicization,” Xu said.

This, he said, required the faith in China to rid itself of all imprints of a “foreign” religion and establish its own Chinese theology.