China's Communist Party Forces Christians to Replace Jesus With Xi Jinping Posters

China's president Xi Jinping makes a point with his right hand, smiling.

Under President Xi Jinping, China's Communist Party is cracking down on religious freedom in rural areas. Christians in southeast China have complained that the local poverty relief program will withhold funds unless families remove posters of Jesus, crosses, or gospel couplets and replace them with pictures of Xi.

"Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their saviour. ... After our cadres' work, they'll realise their mistakes and think: we should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help," said Qi Yan, chairman of the Huangjinbu people's congress in southeastern Yugan county and the person in charge of the poverty relief drive.

Local officials boasted on a local social media account about converting Christians (about 10 percent of the population in Yugan county) into believers in the party. They bragged about having "melted the hard ice in their hearts" and "transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party."

The social media post mentioned that more than 600 villages had "voluntarily" gotten rid of the religious texts and paintings in their homes and replaced them with 453 portraits of Xi, the South China Morning Post reported. The social media post disappeared a few days after it was posted, but local officials and villagers confirmed the campaign did take place.

A local man in Yugan with the last name Liu said that in recent months his fellow villagers had been ordered to remove religious artifacts from their homes. "Some families put up gospel couplets on their front doors during the Lunar New Year, some also hang paintings of the cross," Liu told the Morning Post. "But they've all been torn down."

Liu insisted that many did not tear down their posters willingly. "They all have their belief and, of course, they didn't want to take them down. But there is no way out," he said. "If they don't agree to do so, they won't be given their quota from the poverty-relief fund."

Qi, the official, insisted that the funds were not contingent on recipients removing the posters. "We only asked them to take down [religious] posters in the centre of the home. They can still hang them in other rooms, we won't interfere with that," the official said. "What we require is for them not to forget about the party's kindness at the centre of their living rooms."

"They still have the freedom to believe in religion, but in their minds they should [also] trust our party," the official declared. Christians can believe in their religion, but the Communist Party's "kindness" must be commemorated "at the centre of their living rooms."