Churches across China are facing increased pressure to align with the Communist Party, including replacing crosses with the national flag and displaying pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Persecution watchdog China Aid reports that all churches in Xinyu County, Jiangxi have been ordered to display the national flag as well as Chinese President Xi Jinping's picture and posters on socialist values. Additionally, children in the area have been forbidden from attending church, and the government has threatened to cancel the welfare of low-income residents should they refuse to comply.
In Shangrao, another area of Jiangxi, more than 40 churches have hung a slogan that reads "Non-locals are prohibited from preaching; no underage people allowed in church." In Leqing, Zhejiang, churches have been forced to pay homage to the Party by singing patriotic songs and hanging the national flag.
Government officials in other regions of China are also forcing churches to tear down their crosses and replace them with the national flag.
"All religious venues should raise China's national flag to strengthen awareness of respect to the flag and preserve the flag's dignity," Radio Free Asia (RFA) quoted China's Global Times newspaper as saying, adding that "places of worship [that] do not follow the practice could face scrutiny."
China recognizes only five religions legally-Protestant Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Buddhism. This year, the government has tightened religious regulations in efforts to align "religion with Chinese characteristics." According to new regulations, "China's Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief," religious leaders "must conduct religious activities in the Chinese context, practice core socialist values, carry forward the fine traditions of the Chinese nation, and actively explore religious thought which conforms to the reality in China."
As a result, China hs increased its persecution of unofficial "house" churches, forcing many of them to close.
Aaron Ma, an Asia-based researcher for Open Doors International, told World Watch Monitor that Christians are an "enigma" to the government,
"The CCP believes the Church is a de-stabilizing force, but not because it is bad; in fact, local communities and authorities tend to believe Christians are good people. Some suggest that because Christians' allegiance is first and foremost to God and not the Communist Party, there is a conflict of interests that the party believes can potentially hinder the process of unification. Others are more concerned by what they perceive as potential 'chaos' arising from the huge number of Christians," he said.