The site was inaugurated during the spring festival. It covers 15 hectares and its highlight is the 80-metre church. Local authorities allegedly sponsored the construction.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – A Christian theme park (教会 主题 公园) opened during the spring festival in Changsha, Hunan province (where Mao Zedong was born), inside the Changsha Xingsha Ecological Park.
One of the highlights of the tourist site, which covers 15 hectares, is an 80-metre high church. The park is also home to the Hunan Bible Institute.
However, the opening of the park has sparked a wave of criticism because it was allegedly sponsored by the local government.
“Local governments should no longer use public resources for the propaganda and promotion of a religion,” wrote Shan Renping on the Global Times, a paper close to the Communist Party’s People's Daily.
“[R]eligious activities should take place at religious sites, and should not be extended to social settings,” and “Christian activities should take place within the church, and not in public places. [. . .] Religion should neither be suppressed nor promoted, but should be dealt with in accordance with the law.”
The opening of the "Christian" park has also fuelled a debate on Chinese social media, with conflicting opinions.
In a popular WeChat article by an account called ‘Behind the Headlines’, the author expresses his dismay at the fact that the Christian park should be opened in, of all places, the hometown of Mao, who was a convinced atheist.
Many Chinese Internet users believe that the country is a secular society and that the park’s construction is not consistent with Changsha’s revolutionary history.
One user on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, wrote "the government should be alert to the penetration of religious ideas that contradict China's mainstream ideology, which might pose a threat to political security."
Some also wonder why China would use religion for economic reasons. For Zhang Yiwu, a professor and cultural scholar at Peking University, the answer lies in the fact that "Many local governments are struggling for progress during industrial transformation, and religion is being used for cultural and tourist development".
Others have come out in favour of the park as a form of religious freedom, wince no one is obliged to go there. One commentator complained that the widespread criticism was unfair, noting that “When there are mosques built, nobody dares to say anything, but when other religions make something, you open your mouths. It’s not right.”