Bah, humbug

College campaign targets Christmas celebrations

People dressed as Santa Claus stand on a street in Hefei

Standing up for Santa

Normally Christmas Day is just like any other in China. But for this year’s festive period a college in the city of Xi’an decided to do something special to mark the Christian holiday: hold a three-hour study session about the perils of spreading Western cultural thinking.

The compulsory class – which featured a film about Confucius – was the surprise culmination of a month-long anti-Christmas campaign on the Modern College’s campus, which also saw school authorities hang out banners reading “Be Good Sons and Daughters of China, Resist Kitsch Western Holidays”.

The college wasn’t the only organisation to come over all Scrooge-like last month. On December 24 university students in the capital of Hunan, Changsha, took to the streets in traditional Chinese-garb to tell people not to celebrate foreign holidays. Meanwhile in the eastern city of Wenzhou – sometimes referred to as China’s Jerusalem because of its large Christian population – local education officials warned schools not to celebrate the festive season.

The move was designed to counter an “obsession” with the festival, Xinhua quoted local officials as saying.

Quite where this wave of anti-Christmas sentiment came from this year is unclear, although the authorities may be overreacting to the commercialisation of Christmas in shops and popular culture.

Malls are now commonly decorated with Christmas trees and other festive accoutrements. Similar to the West, sound systems are given over to interminable playing of Jingle Bells and Feliz Navidad.

But it has also been suggested that the surge in Grinch-like griping is connected to the Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream and his insistence that China does not need to emulate other nations.

“I don’t want to see classic poetry and essays get deleted from textbooks and a bunch of Western stuff get in. I find the ‘desinicisation’ of our culture very sad,” Xi said on recent trip to Beijing Normal University.

The problem is that Christmas is already quite popular – both with the 100 million Christians living in China and the many more non-religious Chinese who love any excuse for shopping and a celebration. “Santa Claus” was the top trending topic on Sina Weibo on December 24 and 25. Typing in ‘Christmas’ as a term on the social media app WeChat soon produced a row of little fir-tree emoticons.

Unlike Chinese New Year, which is fraught with family duties, Christmas also allows young Chinese to let their hair down, practice their English and maybe eat a bit of Western food. “Christmas reminds me of when I studied abroad. Celebrating it does not make me less Chinese,” one weibo user insisted.

“Would we discourage foreigners from celebrating Chinese New Year?” asked another.

“Surely sharing the positives of our cultures is a good thing?”

If Modern College was expecting wider support for its anti-Christmas campaign, the chances quickly evaporated after its youth league posted a statement saying the stampede in Shanghai – which killed 36 on New Year’s Eve – showed that it was right to limit Western celebrations.

Even the People’s Daily took offence, accusing the institution of “sophistry” and “pouring salt on the wounds” of grieving friends and relatives.

“This putting the cart-before-the horse-logic is weak. There are several things we need to state clearly: regardless of whether there had been a stampede in Shanghai or not, it is young people’s freedom and right to celebrate as they want,” the newspaper chastised.

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