Authorities tear down a cross from a Protestant church in Hangzhou’s Dingqiao township, Dec. 19, 2014. (courtesy of China Aid)[/caption] Yang Fan | Radio Free Asia Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang claimed new casualties in a demolition program targeting Protestant Christian churches in the region, which is home to “China’s Jerusalem,” in recent weeks, local residents said.
Officials sent in a demolition gang on July 2 to pull down a cross on a church in Zhejiang’s Weiling county, a church member told RFA.
“The cross on our church was ripped down today, and so many of our church members were in floods of tears over it,” the church member said.
The Weiling church was built several decades ago, long before the more recent boom in Protestant Christianity began to ring alarm bells with the ruling Chinese Communist Party, officially an atheist organization.
“They were unable to speak reasonably with us, or say why they were taking down our cross,” the church member said.
“They are officials, and we are just the people, and so we have no right to speak.”
Foreign ideas feared
China has an army of officials whose job is to watch over faith-based activities, which have spread rapidly in recent decades amid sweeping economic and social change, sparking official fears that foreign ideas are increasingly gaining traction among the country’s 1.3 billion population.
Party officials are put in charge of Catholics, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Protestants. Judaism isn’t recognized, and worship in non-recognized temples, churches, or mosques is against the law.
According to the church member, the Weiling church dates back to an era before communist rule began in 1949, and is no stranger to political persecution, having been targeted during the political turmoil of the Mao-era.
“They shut us down for a stretch during the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976],” the church member said. “Then we started up again, and we were allowed to hold meetings.”
“But now they have taken our cross away.”
Some 100 members of the congregation had gathered during the demolition process, the church member said.
“Everyone just watched. We didn’t dare to comment, because if we’d spoken out of line, they would have detained us,” the church member added.
“We are Christians, so the cross is our symbol. I feel terrible.”
Meanwhile, lawyers acting for a Christian congregation in Zhejiang’s Jinhua city penned a public letter protesting at “illegal actions” by the municipal government.
“We felt that the government’s intention was to attack this church, gradually stepping up the pressure on it, step by step,” letter signatory and lawyer Chen Jianggang told RFA in a recent interview.
“We want to use the law to protect this church’s cross, so we have issued an open letter … explaining that we want them to protect this cross according to law,” Chen said.
In recent months, authorities in the eastern city of Wenzhou have carried out an ongoing demolition program targeting large and highly visible churches and crosses in the city, which is home to an estimated one million Chinese Christians.
Party leaders in the city, dubbed “China’s Jerusalem,” last week threatened to expel members who put religious beliefs ahead of ideology in a “rectification” campaign.
But Chen said the campaign is illegal, and a form of religious persecution.
Demolitions have also been reported by Christian churches in Hangzhou and Taizhou cities in recent weeks, local sources said.
In May, the Chinese Communist Party issued a warning that any of its members who harbor religious beliefs or take part in religious activities could become the targets of its powerful disciplinary arm.
The newsletter of the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in an opinion piece that the problem of religious believers within party ranks is “attracting serious concern.”
China’s Communist Party members number 86.7 million, some six percent of the country’s population, second only to the 88 million claimed by India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), according to figures released in 2014.
According to the article, party members don’t enjoy any right to religious freedom, a right which many religious believers complain is routinely violated by officials across the country.
The CCDI article came after President Xi Jinping warned a high-level ideological conference last week that the development of religion in China should be “independent of foreign influence.”
“Christian congregations have expanded since churches began reopening after the Cultural Revolution,” the party-backed Global Times newspaper said in a recent commentary.
“Religion can be easily used by hostile external forces, especially among separatists in Tibet and Xinjiang autonomous regions, to infiltrate Chinese society, and that may impact the stability of the country,” the paper paraphrased Xi as saying.
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