BEIJING (ChurchMilitant.com) - China's Ministry of Education is purging words like "God," "Christ," "Sabbath" and "Bible" from Western classics used as textbooks in schools as part of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) new policy of sinicization of religions.
Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Anton Chekov's Vanka are some of the books that have had Christian references redacted to combat "religious influences" on the younger generation.
The popular stories are among four works by Western writers to feature in a new Chinese textbook for fifth-grade, 11-year-old pupils that are supposed to offer students an "understanding of other cultures."
In the original story of The Little Match Girl, the child's dead grandmother appears to her in vision and tells her: "When a star falls, a soul goes to be with God." In the revised Chinese version, the grandmother says: "When a star falls, a person leaves this world."
In the novel Robinson Crusoe, the protagonist who is shipwrecked on an isolated island manages to recover Bibles and prayer books from the wreckage.
"I found three very good Bibles … some Portuguese books also; and among them two or three Popish prayer-books, and several other books all which I carefully secured," says Crusoe in the original.
The new version eliminates the word "Bibles" and "prayer-books," preserving only: "Also, I found some Portuguese books."
In the passage "I should lose my reckoning of time for want of books, and pen and ink, and should even forget the Sabbath days," the last two words have been changed into "days of rest."
The state-linked Publishers for the Education of the People, who produce the textbooks, have deleted the passage in Chekov's Vanka where 9-year-old Vanka Zhukov writes to his grandfather: "I hope God will send you his blessings."
The line where Vanka appeals to him, "I beg you for Christ's sake take me away from here," has been altered to "for goodness sake."
Vanka's words "I will pray for you and you can flog me as hard as you like if I am naughty" and "when you die I will pray for your soul like I do for my Mummy" have also been expunged.
Under the sinicization policy, introduced by President Xi Jinping in 2015 and written into party orthodoxy in 2017, no child under 18 may attend religious services or any other religious event. No child under 18 may receive religious education of any kind from anyone.
"Furthermore, each Chinese religious community is responsible for ensuring that its teachings are compatible with 'the socialist society' and supportive of the leadership of the Communist party," notes Thomas F. Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute.
For Chinese Catholics, the government-controlled body charged with carrying out such policies is the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. One of its tasks is to carry out the sinicization of Catholicism.
Its implementation document states: "The Church will regard promotion and education on core values of socialism as a basic requirement for adhering to the Sinicization of Catholicism. It will guide clerics and Catholics to foster and maintain correct views on history and the nation and strengthen community awareness."
An expatriate source from China who wished to remain anonymous told Church Militant that the situation was terrifying and that the Vatican could draw the obvious conclusion from the "current cleansing of Christianity from textbooks" which was being carried out under the guise of "sinicization."
Earlier, at a November 2018 hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Farr described China's religious suppression as "the most systematic and brutal attempt to control Chinese religious communities since the Cultural Revolution."
As in other communist regimes, such as that of the former Soviet Union, the communist ideology does not tolerate any competing narratives and "[r]eligion is a source of authority, and an object of fidelity, that is greater than the state," Farr stated at the hearing.
Farr warned that the September 2018 Sino-Vatican Provisional Agreement was tantamount to "riding the dragon."
"It is worth asking how the Vatican's diplomatic rapprochement with the Chinese government will avoid making this problem worse, in part by appearing to abandon those Chinese Catholics, including bishops and priests, who bravely speak out against religious persecution and on behalf of religious freedom and human dignity," Farr observed.
I do not believe the Agreement as I have described it will help the Roman Catholic Church, China's Catholic minority or the cause of religious freedom in China. The Chinese know what they are doing. The Vatican's charism in China, on the other hand, is not diplomacy, but witness to the truth about God and man.
Universities have also been confiscating classics containing religious elements like Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection and Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Observers say that the campaign against Christianity is due to the fear that China will become the "most Christian country in the world" by 2030, as sociologists like Fenggang Yang, director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, are predicting.
Christianity is experiencing stunning growth in China — from approximately 3.8 million adherents in 1956 to an estimated 70 to 90 million today, about 12 million of them Catholics.
In March 2019, China's Premier Li Keqiang reiterated the CCP's commitment to the sinicization of religions.