The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is leveraging economic restraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic to coerce increasingly desperate, low-income Chinese Christians to renounce their faith or lose welfare benefits, human rights magazine Bitter Winter reported on Friday.
The economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic has hit China’s low-income households hardest, many of which rely upon state-funded welfare benefits to survive. In recent months, the CCP has reportedly forced Christians across the country receiving state-funded welfare benefits to remove religious symbols from their households and replace them with images of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong; some are told to renounce their faith altogether. If Christians refuse, the state cancels their welfare payments, according to the magazine.
In April, the government of a town administered by Linfen, a city in northern Shanxi province, ordered officials from all local villages to “remove crosses, religious symbols, and images from the homes of people of [Christian] faith who receive social welfare payments and replace them with portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi Jinping. The officials were instructed [by the CCP] to annul the subsidies to those who protest the order,” Bitter Winter reported.
Under the officially atheist Communist Party regime, China tolerates just a handful of religions, including Catholicism and “Christianity,” which the CCP refers to as the Patriotic Three-Self Church. Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam are also ostensibly allowed, though in practice the CCP discourages religious worship by creating hostile conditions for people of faith, especially Christians.
A Three-Self church member living in a Linfen-administered village during the CCP’s crackdown on Christians there in April told Bitter Winter that local officials visited his home and “tore down all religious couplets and a calendar with an image of Jesus … and posted a portrait of Mao Zedong instead.”
“Impoverished religious households can’t receive money from the state for nothing—they must obey the Communist Party for the money they receive,” the man recalls a CCP official telling him.