BITTER WINTER — Tian Feng (literally “Heavenly Wind”) is a monthly Christian magazine, published by the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China and the China Christian Council. It has always been a good indicator of the state of “official” Christianity in China.
Since January, the covers of each Tian Feng issue featured a “sinicized” biblical illustration. For example, Jesus was depicted wearing traditional Han attire, Mary was personified as an ancient Chinese woman, and the poor who were fed by Jesus during the “miracle of the five loaves and two fishes” are portrayed with their hair tied in traditional Chinese buns. The October issue was dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Communist China, so biblical illustrations were replaced by patriotic slogans and images. This shows that the whole exercise is governed by ideology and goes well beyond the iconographic “inculturation” traditionally practiced by Catholic and some other missionaries.
A member of a Three-Self church told Bitter Winter that the illustrations reminded him of the “Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars,” a classic Chinese text written during the Yuan Dynasty (1260–1368). “My eyes widened when I saw Mary with her hair tied in a bun like an ancient Chinese woman. It’s so bizarre,” the believer said.
“The CCP has always talked about de-Westernization; it doesn’t allow Chinese people to believe in the God of foreigners, but I never expected that the Lord Jesus and saints through the ages would be transformed into Chinese people. The CCP has gone totally crazy!” a 70-year-old Christian from the northwestern province of Qinghai commented on the illustrations in Tian Feng.
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Christians in China are worried that the CCP is using traditional culture to replace the Bible and distort biblical teachings. The July issue of Tian Feng included a column comparing “The Maxims of Master Zhu” – a classic work on managing one’s household diligently and thriftily, abiding by the law, written by Chinese philosopher Zhu Bolu (1617-1688) – with biblical scripture, as part of the CCP’s drive to “’sinicize’ spirituality.”
For example, the Confucian saying “There is nothing more shameful than being jealous of the wealth and power of others; there is nothing lowlier than looking down on poor people” corresponds to “He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor.” (Proverbs 14:21).
In another comparison, “You mustn’t contest a lawsuit in your family life, as doing so will lead to an adverse outcome. You mustn’t talk too much when conducting yourself in society, as talking too much will lead to mistakes” is likened to “Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Corinthians 6:7).
Some Christians feel that using Confucian and ancient Chinese classics to interpret the Bible is utter blasphemy.
“The CCP is replacing the words of God with human moral standards, secretly distorting the doctrine and eroding the foundations of the Christian faith. This is a truly sinister approach. Only the devil would do such a thing,” a house church preacher commented angrily.
The regime has banned the sales of the Bible online since March last year, removing it from shelves in brick-and-mortar stores even earlier. The Bible is also being re-edited and annotated by including chapters from Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist classics, as part of the government’s work plan to promote Christianity with Chinese characteristics through “thought reform.” The “sinicization” of Christianity is also stimulated through other activities, such as comparative readings of the Confucian Analects and the Bible.
“This is like killing someone with an invisible knife,” a preacher from the northwestern province of Shaanxi, who has suffered through the Cultural Revolution, said worriedly. “During the Cultural Revolution, if you believed in Jesus, the Communist Party would arrest you and kill you in the open. Now, the regime is gradually distorting the Christian doctrine in secret.”