The Chinese state authorities are converting churches into cultural centres where communist ideology is offered as an alternative to faith, a leading human rights organisation has warned.
The Italy-based persecution watchdog 'Bitter Winter' says that more than ten thousand "cultural auditoriums" have been built in Zhejiang Province between 2013 and 2020, with many being set up in churches and ancestral temples after they've been taken over by the state. The centres are often established in rural areas, where the Government has targeted communities for "sinicisation" - a CCP-mandated campaign to systematically eliminate faith from society and ensure citizens are trusting solely in the state to take care of them.
According to Bitter Winter, the centres are built in more remote areas, where "there are many churches where people of faith are involved in religious activities,” and “people crowd religious festivals, in sharp contrast to the poorly attended cultural venues in villages".
"If the Communist Party doesn’t take over rural residents’ ideology, it will be taken over by religion,” a town government official reportedly said. “If the Communist Party eliminates religions openly, it’ll create a very negative image in the world. It’s necessary to try hard to reduce room for religion.”
One believer told Bitter Winter that some Christians have stopped going to church, instead opting attend the cultural auditorium to watch films, dance, or recieve free medical services, which is offered by the local authorities as an incentive.
Bitter Winter's report notes that a cultural auditorium in Xidai village, under the jurisdiction of Zhejiang’s Zhuji city, has a banner outside that reads: "The Communist Party and its central committee are people’s saviors.”
The watchdog reports that "countless churches" have been "converted into 'Civilization Practice Stations for a New Era'" - the mission of which described as a "nationwide initiative to promote Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and strengthen the Party’s ideological propaganda work".
The manager of a civilization practice station revealed what takes place inside:
"We are not only required to show red films and play revolutionary songs every day but must also cooperate with the Government in implementing various propaganda tasks.
"The county’s publicity department, an institution that manages us, organized a meeting in August to demand that we restrict people from practicing their faith through propaganda activities. Now the state pays much attention to ideology, and civilization practice stations are used to ensure that people show loyalty to the Communist Party.”
The deputy director of a publicity department in Shangrao city told Bitter Winter that the aim of the centres was to "steer people’s ideology and make them follow the Party".
They added: “If people participate in activities, they will have no time to believe in religions."