China, Christianity and The Da Vinci Code

I came across a very short article today that has me puzzled, and I'm hoping that someone reading this can help me sort this out. According to the World Entertainment News Network, (as fed throughPR-Inside), China has removed The Da Vinci Code from their movie theatres. Here's what the article entitled "China Drops Da Vinci Code" reports:

Chinese cinemas have pulled controversial blockbuster THE DA VINCI CODE off their screens, allegedly to make way for local films. The excuse has been questioned by some media sources, who suspect the religious content of the film has upset some conservative Christian groups.

* * *

WU HEHU, spokesman for Shanghai's United Cinema Line Corporation, reveals he is still confused as to why he received the order to stop showing the film, which is becoming one of the most successful foreign movies to be released in China. He says, "This is such a short notice from the film's distributor. I don't know the reason. We just do what we are told to do."

Now, I find this to be very puzzling. China is not known for being friendly to Christianity -- heck, it isn't friendly to any religious beliefs. According to Human Rights Watch's Human Rights Overview: China 2005, the government of the People's Republic of China continues to closely watch and monitor all religious groups. Religious institutions are required to register, however "registration brings vetting and ongoing monitoring of religious personnel, seminary applicants, and publications; scrutiny of financial records and membership rolls; and veto power over group activities."

So, in a country where the Christian population is being suppressed and harrassed, exactly how did it become powerful enough to pressure the film distributor to pull TDC from theatres?

I would suggest an answer: I note that the idea that the film is being pulled due to conservative Christians being upset is speculation. Based upon the fact that Christians represent a small minority in the country (approximately 7.5% of the population) and reports I have seen of religious persecution in China (such as can be seen here), I find it very difficult to believe that they would be able to garner enough pressure to be able to remove this film from theatres.

So, what entity may have both the power and the motive to remove the film? I have a suggestion: the Chinese government. The government -- which is officially atheist -- distrusts religious organizations and especially views religious organizatins from the outside as trying to subvert the communist government. As the page on China notes:

Foreigners are not allowed to proselytize. They are allowed to preach to other foreigners, bring in religious materials for their own use, and preach to Chinese at the invitation of a registered religious organization.

In the province of Guangdong, local regulations have been added to the government ones. Illegal materials (any unapproved foreign religious material) cannot be sold, distributed, copied, or shipped. Chinese residents cannot accept any outside money or assistance from foreigners or foreign organizations. The existence of any unapproved religious organization or personnel is illegal. Foreigners cannot establish a religious organization, churches, appoint any pastors/leaders, distribute religious materials, train disciples, or conduct any other religious activities.

This fear of outside involvement is echoed in the Human Rights Watch page, previously linked above, which reports:

Equally troubling is increased vetting of relationships between Chinese religious bodies and their foreign counterparts. Officials continue to express fears that international religious ties are a fa├žade for Western infiltration.

It appears as if the government is suspicious of any western religious involvement in the PRC. So, isn't it more likely that the reason the film has been halted is that the government -- which is untrained in matters of Christianity and therefore probably incapable of discerning the difference between the claims of TDC and Christianity -- would seek to halt the release of a film that speaks of Jesus and Mary and the Roman Catholic Church? Perhaps in their effort to control the flow of information about Jesus into the country, they have unwittingly done Christians there a favor by stopping the release of a film that spreads misinformation about Jesus and Christian history.

I am obviously speculating and I hope that someone reading this with recent experience with the religious organizations working in and around China can comment.


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