Christmas is the most popular Western holiday in China. Every December, shopping centers, hotels, and restaurants radiate Christmas cheer: colored lights, window garlands, wreaths, and, of course, Christmas trees. Many families, too, decorated trees in their homes and wrap gifts for their children.
Most Chinese who celebrate Christmas are not Christians. Starting from the 1990s, the middle class has viewed the festival as a trendy commercial holiday devoid of religious connotations; China is, after all, a largely secular society. Yet in the past decade or so, Christmas has also become a source of social conflict.
Back in December 2006, a group of doctoral students from some of China’s most prestigious universities jointly published an article calling for Chinese people to be wary of Christmas and uphold the sanctity of Chinese culture. Since then, intense online discussions erupt every year over whether Chinese people should celebrate Christmas.
It is perfectly legal to be Christian in China. However, the country’s anti-Christmas brigade argues that most Chinese people who take part in the festival are not followers of Christianity. For instance, in many of the country’s kindergartens, elementary schools and middle schools, teachers celebrate Christmas with students and hand out presents. For lobbyists, this equates to brainwashing young Chinese children with a foreign culture and religion — a practice that, in turn, fuels the spread of Christianity across China.
Universities, in particular, are hotbeds for both Christmas celebrations and anti-Christmas boycotts. Last week, Shenyang Pharmaceutical University, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, instructed students not to get “blindly excited” about Western holidays. Its purpose, according to their statement, is to “guide young people toward establishing cultural confidence and voluntarily resisting the corrosion of Western religious culture.”