'Christianity theme park' in Mao Zedong's home province sparks outrage

Neo-Maoists express fury online over project in city of Changsha, regarded as Chinese communism’s answer to Mecca

Neo-Maoists have launched an online crusade against a “Christianity theme park” that recently opened in the southern Chinese city where Mao Zedong “converted” to communism.

The park – which is reportedly centred around an 80-metre (263ft) tall church designed to resemble Noah’s Ark – was inaugurated last month in the city of Changsha, the capital of Hunan province.

News reports about the project have infuriated China’s Mao devotees, for whom the city is a species of holy land.

“When I saw the news about the so-called ‘Christianity theme park’, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Guo Songmin, a prominent neo-Maoist scholar and commentator, wrote online.

Artist’s impression of the Xingsha Ecological Park in Changsha.
Artist’s impression of the Xingsha Ecological Park in Changsha. Photograph: Handout

“The whole church thing is as inconceivable as a visitor from outer space and is largely a cultural invasion,” Guo said, demanding that authorities replace the church’s cross with a red star.

Guo declined an interview request from the Guardian.

A second article, published on the neo-Maoist website Utopia, called the project an “imperialist cultural invasion”.

Building a church in a public space was a violation of people’s freedom not to believe in God, wrote Qian Changming.

Qian lamented how authorities had allowed its construction but had last year ordered the demolition of a giant golden statue of Mao further north in Henan province.

Zhao Danyan, a third critic, called for the immediate demolition of the “unnecessary and inappropriate” structure. At best, it would harm local culture, he argued. At worst, it posed a threat to China’s “ideological security”.

Jude Blanchette, a Beijing-based academic who studies China’s resurgent community of neo-Maoists, said the commotion was largely the result of the church’s location in Chinese communism’s answer to Mecca.

Mao was born in the nearby village of Shaoshan in 1893 and as a teenager moved to the provincial capital, where his long revolutionary march to the pinnacle of Chinese politics began.

“Mao Zedong went to school in Changsha, he lived in Changsha, he opened his first bookstore in Changsha,” said Blanchette. “That is sacred ground.

“While I doubt this would have gone down well anywhere if they had known about it, it is especially galling [for neo-Maoists] to have this blatant act of betrayal happen in the holy land.”

Blanchette said much of the fury was focused on a website called the Red Song Society, which he described as the Drudge Report of neo-Maoism.

“The narrative that they are passing around … is that this is just another sign of infiltration by hostile foreign forces and of how tepidly communist and red our officials are that you now get state money going to build a cross on the side of a building.”

While China is home to tens of millions of Christians and Christianity is one of five faiths recognised by the official atheist government, it is not always viewed or treated favourably by the Chinese Communist party.

Hundreds of church crosses have been torn down in eastern China in recent years while President Xi Jinping has warned of foreign infiltration of religious communities.

A source in Changsha’s Christian community, who asked not to be named, said that what news reports had hailed as a “Christianity theme park” was in fact simply a church and Bible study centre built on a strip of land handed to them by the government.

The source was aware of the online firestorm surrounding the project but was unsure how the authorities might react. “So far, the government hasn’t spoken with us about the matter yet, and our project is still carrying on.”

Blanchette said China’s leaders considered neo-Maoists a powerful organising force whose militancy had to be taken seriously. The church’s chances of surviving the outcry were slim.

“I would be surprised if the cross stays up there that long,” he said.

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen


Tom Phillips in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

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