Christians in south east China have reportedly been asked to replace images of Jesus Christ with those of President Xi Jinping if they want to receive government benefits to alleviate poverty.
Thousands of Christians in Yugan county in rural south east China have been told by local officials that Jesus Christ wouldn't drag them out of poverty or cure their illnesses, but the Chinese Communist Party will. Hence, they should take down those pictures of Christ and put up a nice photograph of President Xi Jinping.
Located on the edge of Poyang, China's largest freshwater lake, the impoverished county in the Jiangxi province is known equally for its poverty and its large Christian community.
More than 11 per cent of its one million residents live below the country's official poverty line, while nearly 10 per cent is Christian, South China Morning Post reported, citing official data.
According to Washington Post, a social media account in Yugan county said villagers had "willingly" removed 624 posters showing Christian religious sayings and images, and replaced them with 453 images of President Xi.
The move, while still on a small scale, depicts the personality cult surrounding Communist China's first leader, Mao Zedong, whose picture was in every home.
In the latest campaign, members of the Communist Party of China involved in poverty alleviation toured villages informing the people how the party was supporting agriculture and removing poverty.
Under President Xi, the ruling Communist Party had made ending poverty by 2020 a top priority, and the campaign is not only crucial to the political legacy of the country's most powerful leader since Mao, but also serves to consolidate the party's control over the grass roots of society.
Qi Yan, the chairman of the Huangjinbu people's congress and the person-in-charge of the township's poverty-relief drive, has said the campaign had been running across the county since March and it focussed on teaching Christian families how much the party had done to help eradicate poverty and how much concern President Xi had shown for their well-being.
"Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses. But we tried to tell them that getting ill is a physical thing and that the people who can really help them are the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi," South China Morning Post quoted Qi, as saying.
"Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their saviour. After our cadres' work, they'll realise their mistakes and think: we should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help," he added.
Qi further said that the township government had distributed more than 1,000 portraits of President Xi, and that all of them had been hung in the residents' homes.