Whatever one thinks of Pelosi's trip, China’s leaders may want to reconsider their way of portraying religious symbols
As Nancy Pelosi was on her way to Taiwan on Aug. 2, the Chinese embassy in France tweeted a puzzling image with strong anti-Catholic flavors. This image is not only offensive but signals a potential return to the early communist ideology that could harm many.
The strange visual shows a baby sleeping on a bed while a scary woman draped in a baroque sheet and crowned with stars enters through the window to obviously attack the innocent child. But a muscular man with a hammer and a sickle stands by, ready to protect his progeniture.
To make sure that foreigners understand the underlying nationalist and macho message, an English subtitle states: "No one likes war, but no father would ever allow someone to steal his child." In other words, Pelosi is a witch who wants to steal Taiwan away from its fatherland.
Yet, the tweet also included two hashtags #Taiwan, #Pelosivisit and a Chinese sentence saying "Mary, the Baby Thief” signed in Chinese by “The Unicorn Band.”
Obviously, this whole tweet may only deserve a good laugh. But it comes from a Chinese embassy endorsed by state officials and displays various political symbols which need to be addressed.
I do not want to comment on Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. Rather, I want to highlight the offensive and concerning way this tweet refers to a religious figure — Mary. Why would China want to associate Pelosi with the Virgin Mary refashioned as a witch? Why would Chinese officials return to anti-religious extremism?
"The fact that something like that is thinkable and acceptable is concerning"
Making sense of this tweet is a hazardous enterprise. The image itself has appeared only in a very few tweets promoted by Chinese agents. Marginal, it does not represent the main line of the Party.
However, while the English sentence on the image itself didn't say anything about Mary, the embassy did add something in Chinese about Mary. This additional message was for Chinese citizens established in China or in the West: do not trust their religion!
One may record that Pelosi is a Catholic. And the Holy See is the only power with global significance, which continues to have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. For Chinese propagandists with persecution syndromes, amalgamating US policy with global Catholicism is an easy step.
The "stealing the baby" narrative also echoes an old communist myth of the Maoist era which pretended that Catholic orphanages were factories to steal and kill Chinese babies. In the 1950s, these rumors were so widespread that Chinese nuns running orphanages had to flee the country or die. Anti-Catholicism has deep roots in the Chinese Communist Party.
In other words, the tweet of the Chinese embassy decided to double down on the image and promote old and hardline communist propaganda. The fact that something like that is thinkable and acceptable is concerning. There are Chinese officials allowed to publicly promote this discourse.
In the midst of its struggle with the US, Beijing should keep in mind that Mary goes beyond the West and the 1.3 billion Catholics who venerate her. In addition to many Orthodox and Anglican Christians who revere the Mother of Jesus, there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who deeply respect her. Furthermore, in India and Vietnam, millions of Hindus and Caodaists turn to this religious figure for good health.
"Chinese officials in charge of state communication should keep in mind that treating the Virgin Mary as a witch stealing babies is an insult to billions"
In other words, if Chinese leaders want to return to outdated anti-religious propaganda, they won't need the West to find themselves isolated within the international community.
After decades of modernist ideologies that have unduly attacked what religions can bring to societies, many nations — and Deng Xiaoping himself — have taken a less radical approach. Religious resources can help to build social cohesion, collective resilience, economic development, international exchanges, and interethnic dialogue. Respecting religious sentiments is important for good governance.
In an age of instant translation, Chinese officials in charge of state communication should keep in mind that treating the Virgin Mary as a witch stealing babies is an insult to billions of people from various faiths and countries.
Whatever one thinks of Pelosi's trip, China’s leaders may want to reconsider their ways to mobilize religious symbols.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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