CHINA is by some estimates on track to surpass the United States and become the world’s largest Protestant Christian nation by 2021. Even if that doesn’t happen, the celebration of Christmas will remain one of the most important cultural and religious dates on the calendar for tens of millions of Chinese Christians. Beyond its spiritual significance in the country, the holiday has growing commercial appeal.
But regardless of whether we’re talking religion or consumerism, Christmas remains a prickly issue for the Chinese Communist Party. As Gary Sigley, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia, wrote in 2007, Christmas is problematic for the CCP “because its sheer visibility in the urban landscape simply reinforces the fact that the monopoly the party-state once had over public space has long since eroded.”
As traditional Chinese culture increasingly becomes central to the Party’s reshaping of ideology and legitimacy, Christmas also gets caught up in the intensifying politics of cultural hegemony.