Officials in China’s eastern Jiangxi province have replaced religious images displayed by Christian families with portraits of the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, according to reports.

Pictures showing officials removing images of the cross in Yugan County were uploaded to the social messaging service WeChat account of Huangjinbu town government, according to ucanews.com.

The message from officials said the Christians involved had “recognised their mistakes and decided not to entrust to Jesus but to the [Communist] Party”, claiming that the Christians voluntarily removed 624 religious images and posted 453 portraits of Mr Xi, the country’s President and general secretary of the Communist Party of China.

The officials also claimed they were “converting” Christians to party loyalty through poverty alleviation. Nearly 10 per cent of Yugan County’s largely impoverished one million people are Christian.

Fr Andrew, who declined to give his full name, told ucanews.com that the removal of the Christian images involved officials giving money to poor households in return for hanging Mr Xi’s portrait. Father John, in northern China, said he felt Mr Xi had become “another Mao” Zedong following the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October. The priest predicted that other officials around the country would imitate what had been done in Jiangxi.

With the party’s new revised “Regulations on Religious Affairs” to be implemented on February 1, Chinese Christians and observers believe religious policy will closely follow Mr Xi’s “Sinicisation” model.

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