ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: November 16, 2017 10:09 AM GMT
Jiangxi Catholics are hanging Xi's portrait to replace religious icons in their home. Priests are worried other provinces will follow suit. (Source: wechat)
Officials in China's Eastern Jiangxi Province have replaced religious images displayed by Christian families with portraits of the country's leader Xi Jinping.
On Nov. 12, pictures were uploaded to an account on the popular social messaging service WeChat account of Huangjinbu town government, Yugan County, showing officials removing images of the cross and other religious subjects.
The message from officials stated that the Christians involved had "recognized their mistakes and decided not to entrust to Jesus but to the (Communist) Party" claiming the Christians voluntarily removed 624 religious images and posted 453 portraits of Xi.
The officials also claimed they were "converting" Christians to Party loyalty through poverty alleviation and other schemes to help the disadvantaged.
Nearly 10 percent of Yugan County's largely impoverished one million population is Christian
Father Andrew, who declined to give his full name for fear of government retribution, told ucanews.com that the removal of the Christian images involved officials giving money to poor households in return for hanging Xi's portrait instead.
Father John, in northern China, felt Xi had become "another Mao" following the Party Congress in October, and predicted that other officials around the country would imitate what had been done in Yugan county.
With the Party's new revised "Regulations on Religious Affairs" to be implemented on Feb. 1, Christians and observers believe religious policy will closely follow Xi's "Sinicization" model.
Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, pointed to the dangers of 'Chairman Mao' style personality cults. During the Cultural Revolution, religious intolerance and Mao Zedong's dogma prevailed.
Priests in China who spoke to ucanews.com did not see any direct return to the conditions of the Cultural Revolution, however, they feared religious and social controls would continue to intensify.
"It is not going to be good," said one of the priests.
The release in China of videos urging children to spy on their families has also brought back further dark memories of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution in which youths enforced Communist Party ideology.
Young people of the Red Guards engaged in the arrest and public humiliation of anyone considered to be deviating from the teachings of revolutionary leader Mao.
Recently the Chinese Society of Education, affiliated to the Education Ministry, released two videos online aimed at teaching children to report family members who could pose a threat to national security.
One video was for primary school students and another for high school students.
Both instructed children to report to the national security bureau anyone, including parents, who could be illegally relaying confidential information, especially to foreigners.
The videos provided a hotline phone number to report suspicious activities.
An official notice said the videos were produced to match President Xi's strategy of incorporating national security objectives into the education system.
However, after the videos were uploaded, one blogger said the appeal to children to monitor the activities of family members constituted 'brainwashing' reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.
Joan, a private teacher, questioned the need to create juvenile security agents.
"The videos remind me of the little Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution," the 30-year-old Zhejiang Catholic said.
During the Cultural Revolution young people were encouraged to criticize their elders, including parents and teachers.
People accused of spying for foreign powers were detained and beaten to obtain confessions.
Release of the videos came in the wake of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which was widely seen as elevating Xi to a similar historical status to Mao.