This May 24 photo shows the "underground" Zhongxin Bridge Catholic Church near supports for an under-construction expressway bridge in Tianjin. (Photo by AFP)
A Confucian scholar in Qufu, the Chinese sage's birthplace, has provoked accusations of religious exclusion after calling for Christian churches to be banned from the town.
Zeng Zhenyu, a political adviser in Qufu, Shandong province, complained of plans to turn a temporary Protestant church into a permanent structure accommodating 3,000 worshipers after the Chinese New Year in February.
"According to historical records, foreigners planned to build a church in the west of Qufu in the early 20th century, triggering opposition from Confucius' descendants and local residents," Zeng wrote in an article published online on Jan. 21.
Since then, debate has raged on Chinese social media over Zeng's call for a ban on churches to prevent "intense controversy."
One blogger on Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter, said Qufu should only be ready to accept churches once the Vatican builds a mosque.
Many other Chinese have defended the right of Christian communities in and around Qufu to build churches and worship freely.
"I agree with the legitimate rights of religious citizens, regardless of national cultural sovereignty," wrote one Weibo user on Jan. 27.
The recent call for a ban on churches in the birthplace of Confucius follows an open letter signed by 10 scholars opposing plans to build another Gothic-style Protestant church in 2010.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has promoted a Confucian revival in China in recent years, calling on the country's 1.3 billion-plus people to embrace "traditional Chinese religions" over imported faiths from the West.
A year after a visit by Xi to Qufu at the end of 2013, plans were announced for a US$260 million Confucius Center in the town displaying 100,000 relics.
In October 2014, China published a book of Xi's many public quotations of Confucius that have appeared regularly in the country's state media.
Although China's current leader has heavily promoted Confucius — Chairman Mao famously denounced the sage — the recent revival has also been driven by ordinary Chinese, Sebastien Billioud, an expert on Confucius at Paris Diderot University, told ucanews.com.
"I often heard ordinary people say that China needs Confucianism as a counter-current to the rise of Christianity," said Billioud, author of The Sage and the People: The Confucian Revival in China published in September. "But it doesn't mean this view is shared by everyone."