BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese city has banned schools from holding Christmas events, state media reported on Thursday, highlighting official suspicions about the increasingly popular festival because of its foreign origins.
China's Christian population, currently estimated at around 60 million, is rapidly growing and Christmas is increasingly marked in the country ruled by the officially atheist Communist Party.
But the government education bureau in Wenzhou, an eastern Chinese coastal city sometimes called "China's Jerusalem" because of its large Christian population, banned schools from holding "Christmas-related" events, the Global Times reported.
Local officials "hope schools can pay more attention to Chinese traditional festivals instead of Western traditions", said the tabloid, which has close ties to the Communist Party.
Interest in Christmas has grown in China as an occasion for shopping, with marketeers using everything from saxophones and Smurfs to steam trains to get consumers to open their wallets.
But authorities in Wenzhou this year launched a demolition campaign aimed at local churches, with more than 400 forced to remove visible crosses and some completely destroyed.
The ban came as a university in central China required students to watch a documentary about Chinese sage Confucius instead of celebrating Christmas.
"Be good sons and daughters of your country, stand against kitsch Western holidays," a banner on the campus of Northwest University in the ancient city of Xi'an said, according to photographs posted online.
"Resist the expansion of Western culture," read another.
A university spokesman told the state-run Guangming Daily that the school appealed to the students to pay more attention to Chinese traditional culture, and not to "idolise foreign festivals".
The newspaper added: "Each year Christmas brings debate, with one side saying that the festival can bring a lot of new fun things, and another side saying that we should not fawn over foreign things and overlook Chinese traditional festivals." China's Communist party periodically issues broadsides against "Western cultural infiltration" amid growing consumption of foreign movies, music and other goods.
The microblog of the ruling party mouthpiece, the People's daily, displayed pictures of around 10 university students in the central province of Hunan holding an anti-Christmas street protest.
"Resist Christmas," read banners held up by the students, who wore traditional Chinese outfits. "Chinese people should not celebrate foreign festivals."