Hong Kong, Dec. 19, 2018: No Santa. No trees. No stockings. No lights.
The authorities in Langfang, a city in China’s Hebei province, have issued a ban on all Christmas displays on streets and in stores, according to a notice from city officials.
Christmas may be a Western holiday, but it has been co-opted by shopping malls in Chinese cities as a seasonal marketing opportunity, with glittering trees towering in malls to draw in shoppers.
In Langfang, however, city authorities have vowed to clear out all Christmas lights and decorations from its streets, stores and schools. The notice ordered employees to do a sweep of shopping malls and streets on Dec. 23, 24 and 25 to make sure there are no Christmas decorations.
The three days are not public holidays in China, and the order comes amid an intensifying crackdown on foreign-influenced religious activity.
“The use of parks and other open spaces to spread religion will be managed and controlled,” the order said. “If found, monitor closely and report them to superiors,” the notice issued on Saturday instructed citizens. Street vendors selling Christmas trees or sweets are to be “cleared out.”
When reached by telephone, Langfang’s urban management office declined to comment.
The Global Times, a paper run by the Communist Party, reported that Langfang’s efforts were not so much a Christmas ban but an effort to score points in the “National Civilized Cities” ratings, a yearly campaign organized by the propaganda department of the Chinese Communist Party.
This is not the first time a city in China has clamped down on Christmas merriment. Last December, Hengyang, a city in Hunan province, issued a stern notice asking Communist Party officials and their relatives to “resist the rampant Western festival.” The China Communist Youth League in Anhui wrote on social media last year that “Christmas is China’s day of shame” and represents a latter-day invasion by the West.
Critics see Langfang’s plans as an ingratiating move by a smaller city to curry favor with the Chinese government, particularly in light of Beijing’s recent crackdowns on Christians and Muslims.
“The ban on Christmas decorations in Langfang is part and parcel of the Chinese government’s tightening control over religion,” said Yaqiu Wang, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. Though many nonreligious Chinese celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, she said the ban on Christmas displays reflects “increased hostility” toward signifiers of Western culture and Western values.
China happens to be the manufacturer of roughly four-fifths of the Christmas lights sold in the United States, something highlighted by Ronghui Chen’s well-known photographs of factory workers in so-called “Christmas villages” devoted to making the decorations. That fact prompted Vox recently to call President Trump’s tariffs on these particular Chinese imports a “trade war on Christmas.”