Jesus may be more popular than Mao in China

Results of an online survey suggest that Jesus and Christianity are more popular than Chairman Mao and Communism, on China’s version of Twitter.

Researchers at Tea Leaf Nation—an online magazine that studies media trends in the country— recently scanned the social media platform Weibo for Christian terms and found they are quite popular, despite the country’s tight control on religion, the Christian Today website reported.

The survey discovered the word ‘Bible’ produces more than 17 million results, but “Quotations of Chairman Mao’—a text known in the West as ‘The Little Red Book’ only had 60,000 results.

The ‘Quotations’ book contains excerpts from speeches and writings of Mao Zedong, the former leader of the Communist Party in China. The book –which was widely distributed in China during the Cultural Revolution -- has reportedly sold more than a billion copies.

More than 18 million posts mentioned Jesus, while Chinese President Xi Jinping was only mentioned on Weibo about 4 million times.

'God' received more than 165 million Weibo mentions. That's more than 18 times the searches for 'Mao Zedong'.  The words 'Christian Congregation'  appeared more than  41.8 million times,  but the 'Communist Party' only got  5.3 million results.

When it comes to holidays, Christmas appeared nearly 150 million times, while Chinese National Day only got 50 million mentions.

Human rights groups complain that although the Chinese government says it allows religious freedom, it enforces strict controls, especially on Christians, Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists.

Tea Leaf Nation researchers found China's thousands of government censors did put limits on some searches. When they tried to find the term 'underground church' on the network, they received a screen message saying "results cannot be displayed due to relevant laws and regulations".

The Tea Leaf site attributes the Christian-themed engagement to declining interest in Communist ideology, and the fast growth of the religion in China in the past few decades.

There are an estimated 1.35 billion people living in China.  Official Chinese government figures put the number of Christians in China at 25 million, but external observers with more knowledge of the underground church situation say the number is closer to around 60 to 100 million, according to Christian Today.

About half of China's estimated 100 million religious followers are Christians or Muslims, with the rest Buddhists or Daoists, the government says, though it thinks the real number of believers is probably much higher, Reuters reported.