YANG GUANG’AN | BITTER WINTER
Local governments repurpose places of worship and turn them into propaganda centers, entertainment venues, or factories. Some are even leveled to the ground.
More than 70 Protestant venues were shut down last year in Jiangsu Province’s prefecture-level cities of Lianyungang and Suqian. To prevent congregations from resuming their gatherings, the government decided to demolish or repurpose the venues.
In August, at a meeting of Three-Self Church directors in Bailu, a town in Lianyungang’s Guannan county, town officials explained that the empty churches, left after their congregations had been merged with other venues, must be rented or sold.
One of the churches, which had been unused since its closure in June last year, was rented out on August 25.
Another one was sold the same month. “The government is eradicating churches,” the church director commented helplessly.
Some venues have already been sold before the meeting in August. Among them, the Chenzhuang Church was sold on July 26 for 20,000 RMB (about $ 3,000). “We didn’t have a chance to save our church,” a congregation member remembered.
A shut-down Three-Self church in Suqian city’s Shuyang county was converted into a memorial hall for China’s revolutionary heroes. A county resident told Bitter Winter that on June 5, government-hired workers removed from the building its cross and a large pillar with a sign “God loves the world.” A signboard “Huaihai District’s Military and Political Auditorium” was displayed above the church entrance.
“The church will now be used to teach the young generation about China’s revolutionary spirit,” a village official explained.
At least three shut-down Three-Self churches in Suqian’s Siyang county have been demolished. “People of faith outnumber the Chinese Communist Party members, and the Party is not winning people’s hearts,” a village official explained. “The government fears that this will bring instability. Churches are eradicated to ensure that there are more CCP members than believers.”
On October 21, the government of Xiayi county in the central province of Henan ordered to demolish a former Three-Self church and build a new clinic in its place. According to a county resident, the venue was shut down last year and was used as a clothing factory, which was closed two months later.
The government also repurposes closed down house churches. In the southeastern province of Jiangxi, the Guangxin district government in Shangrao city shut down in April an old Local Church venue for “organizing illegal gathering” and refusing to join the Three-Self Church. The next month, it was converted into a “Civilization Practice Station for a New Era.”
“Party propaganda posters were posted everywhere in the venue, and table-tennis tables were brought inside,” a church member said helplessly. The church congregation now gather in homes of believers.
Authorities forced another old Local Church venue to rent their building to people who run a processing factory. Village officials still continue to inspect the place to make sure that believers do not return.