When the Communist government wants the People to have faith

Like English, the Chinese word for “faith” or “belief” (信仰) doesn’t necessarily have spiritual,religious, or metaphysical meaning. I most often encounter this word in two ways. First, from random men like taxi drivers and people on the bus who give a thumbs up and say, “Religious belief is good!” in response to finding out what I think about certain things. They almost always don’t have any 信仰 themselves, but nonetheless have the general impression that believing in some religion – whatever religion – is a good thing.

The second way I often see this word is on the propaganda posters like the one above, which increasingly saturate public spaces from sidewalk vendors’ booths to hospital waiting rooms:

社会主义核心价值观
Socialism Core Values
人民信仰国家力量
When the People have belief, then the nation has strength.

The Core Values get laid out in three categories: *国家 Nation, **社会 Society, ***公民 Citizens:

*富强民主文明和谐
Prosperity, Democracy, Civilizedness, Harmony;
**自由平等公正法治
Freedom, Equality, Justice, Rule by law;
***爱国敬业诚信友善.
Patriotism, Dedication to one’s work, Integrity, Friendliness.

Although using 信仰 this was might not be an explicitly religious reference, it does seem that the government sees its package of traditional Chinese culture, ethics (most emphasized: filial piety) and patriotism as direct competition for the spot formal or informal religions/ideologies/worldviews (including “Western values”) would occupy in the hearts and lives of the People.

In a similar but more eye-popping line of posters, the Chinese literally reads: “[Insert Core Value here] is a belief.” To read more about how the government uses “belief/faith” you can click that link, and also see Joann Pittman’s, In Democracy We Trust..

Comrade Papa

At least they don’t actually call him “Big Brother.”

comrade_papa_xi
“Staunchly unite around Comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the Central Party Committee. Unceasingly initiate fresh progress in the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
坚定团结在以习近平同志核心的党中央周围,不断开创中国特色社会主义事业新局面
(They call him “Papa Xi” 大大.)

Been to any good Parties lately?

The past year or two’s ongoing propaganda campaign is the most extensive we’ve seen during our time China. This is from the Qingdao North Train Station:
goodparty_happypeople
The big words say:

THE COMMUNIST PARTY IS GOOD 共产党好
THE COMMON PEOPLE ARE HAPPY 百姓乐
BLESSED HOUSEHOLDS 幸福人家

The small words list the Core Values of Socialism.

Surely I’m not the only one who thinks of Animal Farm whenever they see that first slogan…

Nation before family

One way to translate this is, “Nation comes before family.”

nationbeforefamily
yǒu guó, cái yǒu jiā

Hyperliterally it’s, “Have nation, then can have family.” You could also render it, “You can’t have a family without a nation,” or, “You need a nation to have a family.”

It’s sort of a play on the word “nation/country/state” (国家), which is a combination of “nation”() + “family/home”(), so when writing the word “nation,” the “state” literally comes before “family”.

(Mouseover the characters for their pronunciation!)

Praise the Motherland! Or don’t…

Part of my regular commute is literally lined down both sides with Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Recently, it was lined on both sides with vandalized Party propaganda. Someone took out all propaganda posters within a couple blocks’ radius, tagging or slashing dozens of posters.

partygraffiti
“Praise the Motherland!” 歌唱祖国

About two weeks later, the slashed ones have been replaced, but the tagged ones have just been whitewashed a bit.
praisetheparty
“Heartily sing a song praising the Party’s grace!” 高歌

We don’t often see this kind of graffiti. 99.9% of what we do see scrawled on walls is just advertising. But this particular wave of Party propaganda has achieved higher levels of saturation than the previous waves. Our district is full of it.

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…