Making Christmas Chinese: “a yellow Christmas for yellow skin”

Since so many of our Christmas traditions are only two or three generations old anyway, why not make Christmas yellow?

A yellow yellow yellow Christmas
A yellow yellow yellow miracle will appear
A yellow yellow yellow Christmas
Oh! A yellow Christmas for yellow skin

ChineseChristmasNativity

Could Christmas ever become Chinese? It’s complicated. For starters: What does that question even mean? And then there’s Christmas’ thorny and conflicted association with Western culture and imperialism, which this translated article lays it out well enough:

…we have a particularly strong feeling that Christianity is a foreign religion.

…sometimes Christmas faces an embarrassing situation in China nowadays. In the eyes of some Chinese, Christmas is like a white wedding dress, which is Western. When Christmas comes, the whole society is filled a with strong commercial atmosphere.

…Christmas is a symbol of Western cultural invasion. For the vast majority of non-Christians in China, Christianity is only related to Christianity and shopping. As a result, Christmas has been resisted in China several times in recent years. With the spread of the internet, the trend of resistance is intensifying.

Ten Ph.Ds from ten well-known China’s universities including Beijing University and Tsinghua University jointly published an article online on Dec 21, 2006, calling for resistance to Christmas.

The topic of celebrating Christmas seems to appear every year… the groups who boycott Christmas range from the ten left-wing cultural scholars to cultural conservatives. Laid-off workers, farmers, young students, and veterans are also included.
[…]
Christmas has become a symbol which stands for overseas culture. Even Chinese who celebrate the festival think so. Few people are concerned about how Chinese Christians should celebrate Christmas under their own cultural background…

But despite the kind of Christmas you’re most likely to witness in China, and the calls to reject Christmas outright, apparently some people are attempting to meaningfully Chinese-ify Christmas. And the attempts are… interesting, at least. The article I quoted above gives two examples. Here’s the first: Yellow Christmas by Huang Guolun (1999):

Yellow Christmas 黄色圣诞

Words & Music: Huang Guolun 词/曲:黄国伦
Performed by Huang Guolun, Zhu Yuexin, Mai Kelin 演唱:黄国伦、朱约信、苏郁修
(Listen: Youtube, Youtube, Xiami, Tudou)

When I was young I dreamed of a snowy Christmas
小的时候 我曾梦想下雪圣诞节
Waiting by my bed for Santa to appear
躲在床边等待圣诞老人的再现
The days went by year after year
日子过了一年又一年 我什麽也没看见
Oh! Childhood fantasies, a White Christmas
OH! 童年幻想 白色圣诞节
White White Christmas White White Christmas

That year I broke up with her in a rainy December
那年与她分手在那下雨十二月
Sitting in church with red-rimmed eyes singing Silent Night
红着眼眶坐在教堂唱着平安夜
The choir sang it again and again, I felt little comfort
诗班唱了一遍又遍 我觉得有点安慰
Oh! Lost love’s dejection, a blue Christmas
OH! 失恋忧鬱 蓝色圣诞节
Blue Blue Christmas Blue Blue Christmas

’til now, I can taste the flavour of Christmas
直到现在 我才尝到圣诞的滋味
The most beautiful gift that God gave to people
那是上帝赐给人间最美的礼物
In the grim reality of this world there’s sunshine shining in the door of my heart
在这冷酷现实的世界 有阳光照心扉
Oh! Golden warmth, a yellow Christmas
OH! 金黄温暖 黄色圣诞节

A yellow yellow yellow Christmas
Yellow Yellow 黄色圣诞节
A yellow yellow miracle will appear
Yellow Yellow 奇迹会出现
A yellow yellow yellow Christmas
Yellow Yellow 黄色圣诞节
A yellow Christmas for yellow skin
OH! 黄皮肤的黄色圣诞节

I want to celebrate Christmas, not just dance and spend money
我想庆祝圣诞不是跳舞和花钱
We can invest heartfelt concern into this suffering world
可以付出真心关怀苦难的世界
Just like Jesus without complaint or regret devoted His whole self
就像耶稣无怨无悔 奉献祂一切
Oh! The wonder of God’s love, a yellow Christmas!
OH! 主爱奇妙 黄色圣诞节

ChineseChristmasNativity_006b

That article’s second example appeared on the Chinese internet at the end of 2016 — a Henan folk opera that has Jesus being born in Zhumadian. I went searching and found it being passed around the chinternet as a joke:

“Three days after the winter solstice, little Jesus was born in Zhumadian. The Three Magi brought a box of apples, five jin of pork, and ten jin of flour. Mary had a red egg in her hand and Joseph was busy rolling the dumpling dough. The innkeeper brought a bowl of brown sugar and ginger drink, and called, “Elder Sister, you drink this so you don’t catch a cold.” The Party Secretary of Zhumadian village heard the news, rushed over and said, “Hallelujah! But you still have to get a Temporary Residence Permit.” Just as the sky outside the barn was turning late, everyone in the barn ate apples for peace. Red flags flutter at every home in Zhumadian, and they celebrated Christmas with firecrackers and the cry and clamour of gongs and drums.”
冬至过了那整整三天,小耶稣降生在俺驻马店。三博士送来了一箱苹果,还提着五斤猪肉十斤白面。玛丽亚手里拿着红鸡蛋,约瑟夫忙把饺子皮擀。店老板端来碗红糖姜水,喊一声大嫂你喝了不怕风寒。驻马店村支书闻讯赶来,道一声哈利路亚暂住证还是得办。只见那马棚外天色向晚,马棚里人人都吃苹果求个平安。驻马店家家户户红旗招展,庆圣诞鞭炮齐鸣锣鼓喧天。

Recently I just happened upon a third example, sort of: a creative Nativity rewrite by an ABC pastor in San Fransisco, which points out how the ancient culture in which the Christmas Story occurs resembles Chinese culture more than Western culture: What if Jesus were born in my ancestral village in China?

ChineseChristmasNativity_007b

More about Chinese racial talk and attempts to Sinicize Christmas:

Sing Praise Songs to the Communist Party!

(Emphases theirs.)

praisethepartysgrace
“Heartily sing a song praising the Party’s goodness!” 高歌
” actually means grace, kindness, favour… For us it’s strongly associated with Chinese church stuff, and Chinese Christians use it in their kids’ names. So seemed kind of funny (and unintentionally ironic?) that the Party would employ the same usage; switch out “Party” for “the Lord” and it’s basically a hymn (and some quick searches for 颂主恩 did turn up some church songs). But here it’s connected to the slogan’s poetic motif, not intentionally imitating church language.

Anyone remember when hymnals used to have American patriotic songs in the back?

thepartyisgood
The Communist Party is good. Socialism is good. Reform & Opening is good.”
共产党 社会主义 改革开放
But traffic is bad…

Anti-Japanese bumper sticker, Qingdao, China

anti_Japanese_Qingdao_China
Anti-Japanese stuff, usually bumper stickers, aren’t uncommon in Qingdao, but neither are they something we see often.
We’ve come across similar ones before: “Japanese and dog no nearing”

And then of course there’s also Our neighbourhood’s anti-Japanese restaurant.

Unintentionally terrifying Chinese democracy poster

To find out what “democracy is a belief” is maybe intended to mean, and how Chinese communists have the gall to promote “rule of law” and “democracy”, see Joann Pittman’s In Democracy We Trust. (She blogs faster than me, and beat me to the punch with the Princess Bride video.)

Democracy is a Belief
What the heil?
It’s only February, but here’s my submission for Chinglish of the Year — Shangdong Art Institute Media College students’ “I Speak for Socialist Core Values” posters. Click each Chinese word to view its poster, mouseover for pronunciation:

富强 (prosperity)
民主 (democracy)
文明 (civility)
和谐 (harmony)
自由 (freedom)
平等 (equality)
公正 (justice)
法治 (rule of/by law)
爱国 (patriotism)
敬业 (dedication to one’s work)
诚信 (integrity)
友善 (friendship)

I hope it’s abundantly clear that in Chinese Communist Party-land, these words — freedom, democracy, rule of law — don’t mean the same thing that they do in the West. It has nothing to do with Chinglish or mistranslation; they’re using different definitions.

Below are two current propaganda posters from our neighbourhood bulletin boards. Mouseover the Chinese for translation and pronunciation:


社会主义核心价值观
社会主义核心价值观当代中国价值追求精神
Socialism Core Values
Socialism Core Values are the guiding principle of the spirit that contemporary Chinese values are seeking.


社会主义核心价值观富强民主文明和谐自由平等公正法治爱国敬业诚信友善.
Socialism Core Values: prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, rule of/by law, patriotism, dedication to one’s work, integrity, friendship.

With each new Chinese “president” (read: Chairman, as in “Chairman Mao”) we get a whole new raft of propaganda. 2015, aka the Year of the Goat, is shaping up to be China’s most ideological year since Mao (and the NYT and the China Daily aren’t wasting any time). Under Chairman Xi the emphasis moves further away from Jiang Zemin’s Three Represents, Hu Jintao’s Scientific Development, Harmonious Society, and Stability Maintenance to the Chinese Dream, the New Normal, and Socialist Core Values.

P.S. – Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself. It’s a heil of a good pun…

Why are they removing crosses & bulldozing churches in China?

There’s an official campaign on in Zhejiang 浙江 province, home of “China’s Jerusalem” (a.k.a. Wenzhou 温州, the epicenter of traditional Chinese Christianity), in which the government is either forcibly removing crosses from the tops of the church buildings or simply bulldozing them. One Catholic news site had documented 64 demolitions as of May 21. A Protestant human rights advocacy group puts the current total at around 360. And it continues with another one reported this week (Telegraph). Demolition crews come in at 3am, and churches are warned that if they don’t allow their cross to be removed then their whole building will be demolished just like that that huge, new, famous one. Church members are putting up resistance, though so far it’s been ultimately futile (see here for the first big clash that made international news, in which church grannies occupied their church building).

Why? If you answer, “Because they were in violation of building codes! We don’t tolerate that sort of thing in England and neither should the Chinese!” then YOU FAIL China 101 (and this panda facepalm is for you). If this campaign really was about public safety, building codes and zoning laws as the government claims, then they’d be flattening most of Zhejiang province, not zeroing in on churches (duh — I know I shouldn’t read the comments under news stories, but I still couldn’t believe how many times I saw this idea pop up). If you answer, “Because China’s run by atheistic anti-Christian Communists and it’s just like when Mao was alive!” then you’re slightly closer to the truth, but you’re still headed for summer school.

But the direction of your pet prejudices doesn’t matter because (as often happens) government documents have been leaked, showing us exactly why they’re going after churches. Ian Johnson, a 20-year veteran of Chinese state-religion reportage whom I’ve cited before for his reportage on the FLG, confirms in Church-State Clash in China Coalesces Around a Toppled Spire (NYT) what seasoned China people should have been able to figure out from the details in Tom Phillips’ earlier reporting (Telegraph). I’ll quote bits of Ian Johnson’s latest to fill in the three bullet points below, but you should read the whole thing; there’s lots of important detail I’m leaving out here.

First, what started all this?

The church’s problems seem to have begun with a visit to the region in October by the provincial party secretary, Xia Baolong, a close ally of President Xi. Visiting a new economic zone north of Wenzhou, Mr. Xia was reportedly disturbed that a religious building, especially one seen as representing a foreign belief, dominated the skyline. The next month, members of the congregation said, they were told to remove the cross atop their church’s steeple.

“Xia Baolong came to inspect last autumn, and he saw the cross,” said an official in the Wenzhou government’s religious hierarchy. “He said: ‘Take down the cross. It’s so high, and it’s not appropriate.’ But the people said: ‘Well, we’ve already put it up there, and from a faith point of view, it’s our faith, the cross. How can we take it down?’ ”



“Public safety & zoning violations”? Srsly, guys?

The government has defended its actions, saying the churches violated zoning restrictions. However, an internal government document reviewed by The New York Times makes it clear the demolitions are part of a strategy to reduce Christianity’s public profile.

The nine-page provincial policy statement says the government aims to regulate “excessive religious sites” and “overly popular” religious activities, but it specifies only one religion, Christianity, and one symbol, crosses.

“The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways,” the document says. “Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.”
[…]
Officials argued that the church violated zoning rules, but the provincial policy paper suggests that argument was a tactical cover. The paper, called “Working Document Concerning the Realization of Handling of Illegal Religious Buildings,” said the policy would face international scrutiny so officials should be careful to cloak their effort under the guise of cracking down on building codes. “Be particular about tactics, be careful about methods,” it said, urging officials to focus on the idea of “illegal construction.” “This is crucial to investigate and prosecute from the perspective of laws and regulations to avoid inviting heavy criticism.”
[…]
“They said, ‘This will be your last church for 20 years, so make it big,’ ” said a member of the Sanjiang congregation involved in the negotiations. “They also told us that the development zone was a big project and needed a big church as a sign of how this was an outward-looking community.”

An official in the city’s religious affairs bureau acknowledged that “officials said it could be bigger, but perhaps this was a mistake.”

Why single out Christianity?

Protestantism is also linked to a national debate about “universal values.” Some Chinese Protestants argue that rights such as freedom of expression are God-given, and thus cannot be taken away by the state. These beliefs have led many Protestants to take up human rights work. A disproportionate number of lawyers handling prominent political cases, for example, are Protestant.
[…]
The leveling of the Sanjiang Church came amid growing tensions not only between Christianity and the Communist government, but also between Christianity and other religions. It was preceded by a local petition accusing the church of destroying the area’s feng shui, geomantic principles that underlie traditional Chinese folk religion.
[…]
Increasingly, those other religions are receiving greater support from the Communist Party. In March, Mr. Xi praised Buddhism for its contributions to China.
[…]
Just a decade ago, the Communist Party condemned fortunetelling, feng shui and many traditional funerary rites as “feudal superstition.” Now, these are protected under government programs to support “intangible cultural heritage.”

ChinaSource sums it up in It’s About the Space:

…while space for Christianity and religious belief IS expanding in China, it is still the government that has the power to determine the limits of that space. And every once in awhile it needs to give a visible demonstration of that power.

The on-going church demolition and cross-removal campaign is about the growing ideological and physical space that Christianity is occupying in China; this campaign is “a shot across the bow” of Protestant Christianity.

The Chinese authorities don’t mind tolerating a Christianity that is effectively socially marginalized — i.e. it stays out of public consciousness. But Christians will expand into as much space as they’re allowed, and in the more tolerant cities and provinces like Qingdao in Shandong and (formerly) Zhejiang, that space continues to grow. Sometimes newly developing business districts like to accessorize with a fancy church building; it makes them feel open and cosmopolitan. This was the case with the Sanjiang church above, which the Zhejiang government made an example out of. It’s also what appears to be happening fifteen minutes from our neighbourhood in Qingdao, where an elaborate new church building with fancy stained glass and a river sits beside a big new park and a block away from a shiny shopping centre in a sea of construction.

But in Zhejiang province at least, the local Christian presence has exceeded the current limits of the government’s comfort zone. At the highest levels Christianity is perceived as a tool for foreign antagonists, partly because of Communist China’s ideological heritage, and partly because in China as elsewhere throughout history, the connection between human rights and Christianity is becoming increasingly clear — Christianity is disproportionately represented among China’s human rights agitators.

Also from the Ian Johnson and the NYT:

P.S. – Here’s two related things — an explanation of the Chinese words for “church”, and a translated bit from a Chinese pastor, calling for Chinese Christians to re-think their focus on church buildings in light of the recent conflict. (Chinese Christians — and local governments developing new districts — do tend to have a ‘thing’ for fancy church buildings.) At the very least, it’s an interesting anecdote for how Chinese Christians are processing this particular campaign:

When it comes to our faith, the word jiaohui (church, congregation, fellowship) is not the same as jiaotang (church building). It may be possible to deal violently with a jiaotang, but not with the jiaohui. Christians shouldn’t be so sad. Maybe this is a good time to reflect and wonder if we have put too much focus on church buildings. With this jiaotang now destroyed, we should focus our efforts on building the jiaohui.
[…]
The church (jiaohui) is not a church building (jiaotang). The original meaning of the term church (jiaohui) is “a people called by God gathered together.” The key terms are “called by God,” “people,” and “gather together.” It does not say that that “gathering together” must be done in a church building (jiaotang). Protestant theology has always emphasized that the key functions of the church (jiaohui) are “preaching the Word” and “properly administering the sacraments.” These two principles define what a true church (jiaohui) is. It says nothing about a building.

P.P.S. — For some further perspective on persecution, consider that at the same time Zhejiang province is bulldozing church buildings, this woman just gave birth in shackles on death row and will receive 100 lashes before she is hanged… because she’s not Muslim.