PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS IN CHINA
House church raid Christians in China have been interrogated, forced to write confessions and imprisoned in labor camps for their beliefs. Leaders have been arrested for "disturbing public order" and "spreading evil propaganda to disrupt social order." Parents involved in illegal religious activities have been punished by denying their children birth certificates and documentation so they can enter school.
Underground places of worship have been shut down and underground church meeting have been raided. The worshipers are often roughed up and handcuffed and detained and interrogated and then let go. The leaders are sometimes kept longer. Even old ladies have been kicked and beaten. Some Christians arrested for participating in unregistered church services have died while in police custody. Others have been tortured. One house church leader who spent several years at a labor camp told U.S. News and World Report, "We were stripped naked and made to sit outside in the freezing cold while we were interrogated for three days and three nights straight. But suffering is beneficial to us?it tests our faith and our love."
The "evil cult" law passed to combat Falun Gong has been used to crack down on 14 Christian sects. Many Christians have been sent to prisons and labor camps under the law. Five leaders of Christian evangelical groups were sentenced to death in 1999. The leader of one group, the South China Church, with a claimed membership of 100,000 people, was arrested and sentenced to life in prison because his church defied rules against setting up a seminary, publishing house and bimonthly magazine.
Brendon Hong wrote in the Daily Beast: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “has bulldozed churches and torn down crosses—all painted red as reminders of the blood shed by the faithful when Mao Zedong’s troops tried to erase their faith from China almost 50 years ago. Those who speak out against the CCP’s decisions are arrested and placed in black jails. In May 2005, authorities raided 100 house churches in Jilin Province and detained 600 people, some of them for months. In 2007, Beijing expelled more than 100 foreign missionaries
One of the major opponents of closer ties between China and the United States is the American religious right, which objects to the persecution of Chinese Christians and China's liberal abortion policy. U.S. President Bush once said, “All the world’s people, including the people of China, should be free to chose how they live, how the worship and how they work.” Bush has welcomes human rights activist in the house church movement to the White House,
Good Websites and Sources: Chinese Government White Paper on Religion china-embassy.org ; United States Commission on International Religious Freedom uscirf.gov/countries/china; Articles on Religion in China forum18.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religion Facts religionfacts.com; ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy stanford.edu ; Academic Info academicinfo.net ; Internet Guide to Chinese Studies sino.uni-heidelberg.de; Chinatxt Ancient Chinese History and Religion chinatxt ; Christianity in China Christianity in China Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; History of Christianity in China Ricci Roundtable
RELATED ARTICLES IN THIS WEBSITE: RELIGION IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; CONFUCIANISM factsanddetails.com; CLASSICAL CHINESE PHILOSOPHY factsanddetails.com; TAOISM factsanddetails.com; BUDDHISM IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; FOLK RELIGION, SUPERSTITION, FUNERALS factsanddetails.com; RELIGION IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; BRIEF HISTORY AND EVOLUTION OF RELIGION IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; RELIGION AND COMMUNISM IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; RESTRICTIONS AND REPRESSION ON RELIGION AND REFORM EFFORTS ON CHINA factsanddetails.com; CHRISTIANITY, CHRISTIANS, BIBLES AND HISTORY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; CHINESE CATHOLICS AND RELATIONS BETWEEN THE VATICAN AND BEIJING factsanddetails.com; PERSECUTION OF CATHOLICS IN CHINA AND CONFLICTS OVER BISHOPS factsanddetails.com; MUSLIMS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; CONTROL AND REPRESSION OF ISLAM IN CHINA factsanddetails.com; JEWS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com;
New Repressive Rules on Christians in China
The new regulations in 2016 tighten the Communist Party’s longstanding requirement that all religious groups register with the government. Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: The most vocal opposition so far has come from Protestant leaders unwilling to do so. “These regulations effectively push house churches into taking on an illegal character,” said Yang Xingquan, a lawyer who is one of the signatories of the public statement. “This is very clear.” [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, October 7, 2016]
“Many Christians contend that government-approved churches are tools of the state, as sermons are vetted to avoid contentious political and social issues and clergy are appointed by the party rather than congregants or, in the case of the Catholic Church, the Vatican.
“The new rules call for more stringent accounting practices at religious institutions, threaten “those who provide the conditions for illegal religious activities” with fines and confiscation of property, and require the many privately run seminaries in China to submit to state control. Other articles in the regulations restrict contact with religious institutions overseas, which could affect Chinese Catholics studying theology in the Philippines, Protestants attending seminaries in the United States, or Muslims learning at madrasas in Malaysia or Pakistan. Overseas churches and activists with ties to Chinese Christians have been scathing in their attacks on the new regulations. In its annual report on religious persecution, China Aid, a group based in Texas, said they violated the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religious belief.
Clashes with Christians in Zhejiang
In the early 2000s, officials in the eastern province of Zhejiang boasted they had destroyed, confiscated or shut down 450 Catholic and Protestant churches and Taoist and Buddhist temples. Some had been blown up. Others were demolished with sledge hammers.
Zhejiang is home to a very strong house church movement and Christian communities that are wealthy and well connected. By some counts 15 to 20 percent of the population is Christian and some call the province “China’s Jerusalem.”
In July 2006, Christians in Xiaoshan, a booming industrial suburb of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province clashed with police after authorities tried to demolish a church labeled as illegal. Christians there had decided to build a church there by hand after waiting for months to get official approval. Hundreds of Christians gathered at the church site, with some helping to build the church and others forming a protective ring around the site. Chinese authorities responded by sending four bulldozers and several hundred trucks to tear the church down.
A riot broke out as church members tried to stop the demolition. Three thousand protestors faced off against thousands of riot police, security guards and plain clothes police. Four people were seriously hurt. Eighty people were detained. Eight Christians who took part in the protests were given prison sentences ranging form one year to 3½ years.
Friction Between House Church Christians and Beijing
Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Although house church leaders are careful to say that they have no interest in politics, their insistence on independence from state supervision and their real or imagined associations with foreign churches have stoked deep-seated fears among China’s authoritarian leaders, who have been suspicious of Christianity since 1949, when the Communists took power, branded missionaries as agents of imperialism and threw them out of the country. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 17, 2011]
“The bottom line is that house church members believe in Jesus, not the party’s version of Jesus,” said Zhang Minxuan, a pastor and president of the Chinese House Church Alliance, who says he has been detained 41 times, told the New York Times. Many house church leaders are veterans of the 1989 pro-democracy protests who turned to Christianity in the bleak years of government repression that followed.
At a crackdown of a large house church in Beijing, authorities from the Office of Nationality, Religion and Overseas Chinese Affairs showed up and called the service illegal and took down the worshipers names, employers and cell phone numbers, Afterwards the members received calls from both religious officials and state-controlled work units ordering them to stop attending the services. Most refused.
In the months preceded the Olympics leaders of underground churches were arrested, congregations were harassed, visas were denied foreign missionaries and places of worship were shut down.
Aloysius Jin Luxian, Shanghai’s 92-year-old bishop who spent 27 years in labor camps and prison, said, “the more suppression, the more the rebound.”
Stepping up of Crackdowns on House Churches in 2011
Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times in April 2011: “Although many congregations continue to hold services unhindered, in recent weeks the pastors of two large unofficial churches in the southern city of Guangzhou have been detained and their congregations rendered homeless. In Shanxi Province, a house church organizer said the police attacked him with electric batons, and religious leaders in places like Xinjiang in the far west and Inner Mongolia in the north have reported increased harassment, according to China Aid, a Texas-based Christian advocacy group. Last year, the organization reported 3,343 instances in which house church members or leaders were detained or beaten, a 15 percent increase over 2009. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 17, 2011]
Bob Fu, the president of China Aid, told the New York Times such incidents were part of the latest government campaign to try to force house church members into state-run congregations. “I’m not optimistic a peaceful solution will be found to this crisis,” he told the New York Times. “The government’s moves are forcing nonpolitical churches to commit acts of civil disobedience, which the government is not likely to tolerate.”
Global Times, a state-owned newspaper that broke new ground last year by writing positively about house churches, reported Jacobs, gave voice to the most recent shift in official attitude with an editorial last week that condemned some house churches of trying to “twist Chinese society by politicizing religion” and suggested that overseas Christian groups were using the church to subvert the government. “All Christians, as well as those of other faiths, are Chinese citizens first and foremost. It is their obligation to observe discipline and abide by the law,” it wrote.
Describing the large Beijing-based Shouwang Church, Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “It has all the trappings one would expect from the capital’s most well-heeled and prestigious Christian congregation: a Sunday school for children, nature hikes for singles and clothing drives for the needy. Last year, the church, called Shouwang, or Lighthouse, collected $4 million from its 1,000 members to buy its own house of worship. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 17, 2011]
“But Shouwang, according to China’s officially atheist Communist Party leadership, is technically illegal. It is a so-called house church, which in recent years had come to symbolize the government’s wary tolerance for big-city congregations outside the constellation of state-controlled churches. The church has been a release valve for an educated elite seeking a nonpolitical refuge for its faith.”
“Like many underground churches,” Jacobs wrote, ‘shouwang started out small, with 10 people in an apartment that the Rev. Jin Tianming rented near Tsinghua University. It was 1993, and to avoid detection, meetings were clandestine. When an apartment became too crowded, the congregation would split and spread to other apartments, a process that was repeated numerous times, especially after police raids.”
“As strictures eased during the last decade, Mr. Jin brought his congregation out of the shadows, renting space in an office building near Beijing’s university district. That same year, in 2006, lawyers in the congregation helped the church apply for legal recognition with the State Administration for Religious Affairs. With Shouwang’s doors wide open, new parishioners poured in, forcing the church to operate three consecutive Sunday services. The number of paid staff grew to 10 and the congregation started a social welfare program, delivering food to the poor and financial aid to victims of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province.
Shouwang’s effort to register with the government in 2006 was rejected, the church said in a statement distributed by Fu. "Shouwang is not willing to make any compromise on the stand of our faith despite that we are willing to register with the government," the statement said. "We cannot join an official state institution." In December 2009, the church bought property in northwest Beijing for regular Sunday services but government interference prevented the group from occupying the space, it said.
Troubles for Shouwang Church
Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, ‘shouwang’s troubles began again three years ago, shortly after its application for official recognition was denied. Officers from the Beijing Public Security Bureau burst into Sunday services, pronounced the gathering illegal and wrote down the personal details of everyone in the room, one by one. In the days that followed, calls were made to congregants’ employers or college administrators. Many congregants say they were threatened with dismissal from jobs or school if they did not switch to an official church. Some left, but Shouwang’s ranks continued to grow.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 17, 2011]
“In November 2009, after months of pressure from the government, the landlord declined to renew the church’s lease. Congregants met at a park the following Sunday, enduring a snowstorm and drawing foreign media attention. After one more outdoor service, the government offered to find the church a new space. With President Obama set to arrive in China for his first state visit here, church leaders say, Chinese leaders were eager to avoid diplomatic distractions.”
“But if the government had reached an accommodation, it was only temporary. Church leaders say relations soured last October after 200 Chinese house church members — many of them from Shouwang — tried to join an international congress of evangelical Christians in South Africa. Furious that the group sought to represent China, and indirectly undermine the state-run churches, the authorities stopped all but two at the airport.”
“Not long afterward, the government injected itself into a real estate transaction between the owner of an office building and the congregation. Although the money to buy space had been delivered and the paperwork signed, the property’s management, pressed by the authorities, refused to hand over the keys. The congregation, in turn, will not accept its money back.”
Even as Shouwang faced its most serious existential challenge last week, Mr. Jin was defiant, saying the congregation would continue to gather in public until the government allowed it to occupy its new space. “I urge the government to come up with a peaceful and responsible solution,” said Mr. Jin, who was speaking from his apartment, its doorway blocked by the police. “I am fully prepared to go to jail for my church. I belong to the Lord, and if this is what God intended, so be it.”
AP reported. “Tensions escalated in April 2011 when the church was evicted from its usual rented place of worship, a Beijing restaurant. Church leaders decided to temporarily hold services in a public space, prompting police to tape off the area and detain anyone who showed up to take part, with nearly 200 people kept at a local school for several hours. A second attempt at open-air services in northwest Beijing's Haidian district resulted in the 47 detentions.
Shouwang Church Christians Arrested For Holding Unauthorized Public Service
In April 2011, evicted yet again from its meeting place by the authorities, Shouwang announced that its congregants would worship outside rather than disband or go back underground. Its demands were straightforward but bold: allow the church to take possession of the space it had legally purchased. Officials responded with a clenched fist.
In mid April 2011, Beijing police arrested dozens of Shouwang worshipers from a “house church” when they tried to pray outdoors, a rights group said. They sang hymns and said prayers as police loaded them onto waiting buses in Beijing’s western Hai-dian District, k3k4 the US-based Christian rights group China Aid. [Source: J. Michael Cole , AFP, April 11, 2011]
China Aid said more than 100 were detained, but the newspaper said “dozens” of people were held. “The Beijing authorities have again demonstrated their total disregard of their citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to religious freedom,” China Aid founder and president Bob Fu said in the statement.
“The church tried to hold services in the open air after it was evicted from a rented space because the landlord was pressured to not renew the lease, China Aid said. Shouwang, one of Beijing’s largest house churches, invited its members to meet at an open air public platform linking the SinoSteel Building and the South China Poetic Restaurant building, China Aid said.”
‘some of the detainees were taken to a nearby elementary school where authorities took down their names and other details, the statement said. Several church leaders were called to their local police stations...with some spending the night in detention, while others were told they were not permitted to leave their homes.”
A week or so later, AP reported, “47 Shouwang members who tried to worship in an open-air public space...were detained and its leaders were kept under house arrest as part of a crackdown on the unregistered congregation, China Aid said....Numerous uniformed and plainclothes police were parked near the office and shopping complex where Shouwang members were supposed to gather....Jin Tianming, pastor of the Shouwang church, was detained by Beijing police and released the next day. [Source: AP. April 18 2011]
Police rounded up scores of parishioners. Most of the church’s leadership were taken into in custody or placed under house arrest. Its Web site was blocked. “We are not antigovernment, but we cannot give up our church family and our faith,” Wei Na, 30, the church choir director, told the New York Times, Satan is using the government to destroy us, and we can’t let that happen.” She was one more than 160 congregants who were corralled onto buses and detained. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 17, 2011]
“The move against Shouwang, as well as other house churches, coincides with the most expansive assault on dissent in China in years, one that has led to the arrests of high-profile critics like the artist Ai Weiwei, but also legions of little-known bloggers, rights lawyers and democracy advocates who have disappeared into the country’s opaque legal system.”
Christians Barred from Attending International Conference
In October 2010, Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times: “More than 100 Chinese Christians seeking to attend an international evangelical conference in South Africa have been barred from leaving the country, some in the group said this week, because their churches are not sanctioned by the government in China.” [Source: New York Times, Sharon Lafraniere, October 15, 2010]
“They said this is an illegal conference and they sent me home,” Liu Guan, 36, a Protestant evangelical leader who tried to fly out of Beijing’s Capital Airport, told the New York Times. “They said I can not go anywhere.” A 25-year-old education worker who was turned away with Mr. Liu said he later asked for a written explanation of why his passport was seized. “We are not criminals,” he said. “They had no right to take our passports.”
“But Chinese authorities say the Cape Town organizers failed to honor China’s policy of domestic control over religious activities. Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said they failed to formally invite the legal representatives of China’s Christians. Instead, he said, they ‘secretly extended multiple invitations to Christians who privately set up meeting points...This action publicly challenges the principle of independent, autonomous, domestically organized, and therefore represents a rude interference in Chinese religious affairs.”
“Conference officials have protested. In a statement, Doug Birdsall, the executive chairman, said that China’s official Christian representatives were invited and turned down the invitation. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council — -which comprise the only state-sanctioned Protestant church in China — were also included in the process of selecting participants, he said. Michael Cassidy, an evangelical Christian and founder of a group called African Enterprise, complained in a letter to the Chinese ambassador in South Africa that the conference is purely a spiritual gathering.”
Chinese Government Repression of Christians in 2012
Communist authorities have frequently clashed with members of unofficial, or "house", churches, with demolitions of houses of worship and beatings of parishioners not unknown. In November 2012, authorities in Henan Province detained Zhang Shaojie, president of Nanle County’s Christian TSPM Committee, and over 20 members of his Nanle County Christian Church. Many of the detainees had reportedly traveled to Beijing to petition authorities about a land dispute between the church and the Nanle County government. During the Christmas holiday and afterward, authorities harassed other members of the church, lawyers attempting to assist the detainees, and Christian practitioners who traveled to Nanle County to show solidarity. Zhang Shaojie and several members of his church remained in detention at the end of the year. On December 9, authorities in Shanxi Province reportedly arrested Pastors Feng Tiandong and Jiang Mao from the unregistered Zhenzihou Church. Their families were later notified the two pastors were detained on a charge of “organizing and using an evil cult to obstruct the law.” At year’s end, they remained in detention. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, state.gov /|]
In June 2012, a baptism ceremony for more than 500 participants in Zhengan County, Guizhou Province was reportedly canceled due to pressure from local Religious Authorities Bureau (RAB) and United Front Work Department officials. On August 16, the police prohibited Guangzhou activist Tang Jingling and his wife Wang Yanfang from attending the funeral of well-known Guangzhou house church Pastor Samuel Lamb. Other pastors were also put under house arrest to prevent them from attending the funeral, according to online reports. /|\
Alimujiang Yimiti, the Uyghur leader of an unregistered Christian church, continued to serve a 15-year sentence for “illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to foreign entities.” An advocacy organization reported he was being kept under harsh conditions and visits with family had been reduced. Yimiti was sentenced in December 2009 by the Kashgar Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court; his appeal was denied in March 2010. /|\
Overseas media reported Shenzhen house church preacher Cao Nan sued the Futian District police in February for illegal detention. On December 8, 2012, police seized Cao and 10 others while he was preaching in Shenzhen’s Lizhi Park during new Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping’s visit to the city. On December 15, 2012, police again detained Cao for 13 days under the charge of “disrupting social order under a false Christian identity” after he returned to the park to preach, according to Western media reports. Results of the lawsuit were not released. /|\
On August 16, 2012 local officials in Hainan Province’s Lincheng County attacked a group of Christian church members who were trying to prevent the seizure of land on which they planned to build a new church, according to online reports. Local authorities allegedly sold the same parcel of land to both church members and developers but then failed to inform the public of their decision. Several church members, including children and elderly persons, were reportedly injured during the attack. /|\
Security officials frequently interrupted outdoor services of the unregistered Shouwang Church in Beijing and detained people attending those services for several hours without charge. In August officials detained 37 Shouwang Church members. Authorities restricted the freedom of movement of Shouwang’s head pastor and his family and several other leaders. Authorities continued to deny the church access to a property it had purchased for the purpose of holding religious services. At various times the church’s website was blocked. In July authorities beat and then held in detention without medical treatment a member of the Shouwang Church when he attempted to attend Sunday services. /|\
Chinese Government Repression of House Church Christians
According to the U.S. State Department: Unregistered house churches fell outside of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) structure. The government did not recognize house churches and maintained they did not exist. At the same time, the government asserted individuals had a right to participate in family worship in their homes in small numbers. Authorities also applied indirect pressure on house churches by using utility companies and CCP neighborhood committees to cut off electricity and evict Christians from their homes. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, state.gov /|]
In April 2012, seven house church Christians were sentenced in Ye County, Henan Province, to prison terms ranging from three to seven and a half years on charges of “using a cult to undermine law enforcement,” reportedly for recording and copying sermons. Their July and August appeal hearings were delayed due to judicial irregularities and to allow for gathering of new evidence. They remained in custody during these delays; a new appeal date had not been announced by year’s end. /|\
Pressure from authorities on unregistered churches in Guangdong Province continued. According to online reports, the 1,000-member Guangfu house church in Guangzhou, which rented a new location in August, had its lease suddenly canceled in September under pressure from local authorities. Police in 2012 had cut off the electricity and water supply to the church’s recently-purchased Baiyun District facility because “it was being used for illegal gatherings.” Government officials also banned the church’s Christmas services in December 2012 and made cuts to the power and water supply at the church’s meeting place in January. /|\
In Guangdong Province’s Dongguan municipality, police and the local RAB continued their harassment of house churches after having shut down churches in the city’s Tangxia and Gaobu townships in 2012. According to online reports, the Tangxia and Gaobu house churches’ pastors requested a dialogue with the directors of the local RAB about the proper legal procedures to shut down a church. After the authorities refused to review the cases and retract the shut-down notices, the two churches filed an appeal in August 2012 with the Dongguan municipal government to overturn the local officials’ decisions. After losing the initial appeal in December 2012, the minister of the house church in Gaobu submitted a second petition to the Dongguan Intermediate Court in January. There was no further information during the year, and the churches remained closed. /|\
On May 26 2012, religious and local government officials from Hainan Province’s Sanya municipality reportedly disrupted a house church’s worship service and ordered participants to stop all illegal gatherings, warning they must instead go to the city’s registered religious meeting sites. Officials forced the church’s landlord to stop renting to the church. They also banned the church’s leader from attending a conference in Hong Kong, allegedly to avoid “jeopardizing national security and national interests.” Eight other house churches in Sanya, several churches in Hainan’s Haikou municipality, and one in Hainan’s Baoting county either faced similar harassment by local officials or were ordered shut down, according to online reports. /|\
Decapitated Churches in China’s Christian Heartland
Reporting from Zhejiang Province in eastern China, Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: “Along the valleys and mountains hugging the East China Sea, a Chinese government campaign to remove crosses from church spires has left the countryside looking as if a typhoon had raged down the coast, decapitating buildings at random. In the town of Shuitou, workers used blowtorches to cut a 10-foot-high cross off the 120-foot steeple of the Salvation Church. It now lies in the churchyard, wrapped in a red shroud. About 10 miles to the east, in Mabu township, riot police officers blocked parishioners from entering the grounds of the Dachang Church while workers erected scaffolding and sawed off the cross. In the nearby villages of Ximei, Aojiang, Shanmen and Tengqiao, crosses now lie toppled on rooftops or in yards, or buried like corpses. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, May 21, 2016]
“Crosses have been removed from half the churches in Shuitou, with orders coming every month for more to come down. Many worshipers interviewed said they feared an era was coming to end. “For years, we had no problems with the authorities,” a local worshiper said. “Our churches were welcomed by the government.” On a four-day journey through this lush swath of China’s Zhejiang Province, I spoke with residents who described in new detail the breathtaking scale of an effort to remove Christianity’s most potent symbol from public view. Over the past two years, officials and residents said, the authorities have torn down crosses from 1,200 to 1,700 churches, sometimes after violent clashes with worshipers trying to stop them. “It’s been very difficult to deal with,” said one church elder in Shuitou, who like others asked for anonymity in fear of retaliation by the authorities. “We can only get on our knees and pray.”
“The campaign has been limited to Zhejiang Province, home to one of China’s largest and most vibrant Christian populations. But people familiar with the government’s deliberations say the removal of crosses here has set the stage for a new, nationwide effort to more strictly regulate spiritual life in China, reflecting the tighter control of society favored by President Xi Jinping,” who made a major speech on religious policy” in April 2016.
““What has been happening in Zhejiang is a test,” said Fan Yafeng, an independent legal scholar in Beijing. “If the government views it as a success, it will be expanded.” Broadening the campaign to regulate religion could backfire on Mr. Xi, with worshipers abandoning government-run churches in favor of underground congregations, which typically meet unobtrusively in office buildings or homes. It could also antagonize many of the urban, white-collar professionals who have embraced Christianity.
Church Demolition and Church Cross Removal in Eastern China
In 2014, a year-long crackdown on church buildings took place in Wenzhou, a prosperous city in Zhejiang Province sometimes referred to as the Jerusalem of China for its large number of congregations. Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “ A provincial policy statement that emerged in 2014 suggests the campaign is aimed at regulating “overly popular” religious activities." According to Radio Free Asia, three people were wounded” in December 2015 when more than 100 police officers and government workers forcibly removed a cross from a church in Hangzhou.
In July 2014, Associated Press reported: “Hundreds of police took down a church's cross in eastern China early amid a crackdown on church buildings in a coastal region where thousands of people are embracing Christianity. Evangelist Qu Linuo, who belongs to another church, said hundreds of police showed up at the Longgang Huai En Church in the city of Wenzhou and used a crane to remove the cross from its steeple. Qu said he and about 200 others had flocked to the church a few hours earlier to protect the church but peacefully made way for the police. “Qu said authorities told the church the cross violated building height limits. A man at Cangnan county's public security office said he didn't know anything about the incident. The Longgang township police didn't answer phone calls. Across Zhejiang province, where Wenzhou sits, authorities have toppled or threatened to topple crosses at more than 130 Protestant churches. In a few cases, the government has even razed sanctuaries. [Source: Associated Press, July 28, 2014 ^|^]
“Officials have said they're only enforcing building codes, although often they won't specify which ones. A week earlier, “parishioners at another church in Wenzhou successfully protected their cross from hundreds of police, said Zheng Changye, a 36-year-old member of another church who said he had rushed over to the scene. He said three people suffered serious injuries in the clash with police, and photos posted online showed several people bleeding from head injuries. Other photos posted on the China social media site Weibo showed parishioners at the Longgang Huai En Church praying on its steps and holding banners reading "Anti-graft, anti-corruption, protect religion." Qu said authorities afterward returned the roughly 10-foot-tall, red cross to parishioners, who wept and prayed around it. ^|^
According to China Digital Times, a government directive, leaked online in August 2014, restricted reporting on the removal of crucifixes from churches in Hangzhou and Wenzhou. These Christian symbols were dismantled from government-sanctioned churches, precipitating followers into posting messages of outrage to social media. [Source: China Digital Times, August 15, 2014]
Why Beijing Cracked down on the Churches in China’s Christian Heartland
Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times: The campaign to remove the crosses “began in 2014, when the government abruptly announced plans to demolish a church in the neighboring city of Wenzhou, saying it had not received the proper building permits. Then the government began issuing orders for churches across the province to remove their crosses. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, May 21, 2016]
“The Salvation Church, a complex with three spires atop a three-story congregation hall, offices and a parking lot, quickly became a center of resistance. Hundreds of parishioners encircled the church to protect the cross, facing off against hundreds of riot police officers. “In one confrontation, about 50 church members were injured. Pictures of bruised and beaten Christians flooded social media and the websites of overseas Christian advocacy groups. According to parishioners, the government put pressure on the most active members of the congregation. Some businessmen say their partners were pressured into canceling contracts with them. Others were told by their employers that they would lose their jobs if they continued to participate in protests.
“After the church in Wenzhou was demolished, the Salvation Church gave in and agreed to take down its cross. The government said that it was enforcing building codes and that all structures had been affected, not just churches. But documents reviewed by The New York Times show that provincial officials were worried that churches had begun to dominate the region’s skyline.
Pressure on Churches in China’s Christian Heartland
Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times:“As the authorities pressed the campaign, prominent Protestant and Catholic leaders across China, including senior figures in the government’s religious affairs bureaucracy, spoke out against it in sermons and on social media. One of them was Gu Yuese, the pastor of one of the biggest churches in the Chinese-speaking world, the Chongyi Church in the provincial capital of Hangzhou. As one of the best-known Protestant leaders in China, Mr. Gu was influential, and his criticism resonated beyond the region. “These actions are a flagrant violation of the policy of religious freedom that the party and the government have been implementing and continuously perfecting for more than 60 years,” he wrote in a statement released on official government letterhead. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, May 21, 2016]
“Then he was silenced. In January, the police detained Mr. Gu and charged him with misusing church funds. A few days later, another pastor in Zhejiang who had also spoken out was detained on similar charges. “It’s a method to make us pay attention,” said the pastor of a government-run church in Wenzhou. “None of us have financial training, so if you send in an accountant, they will probably find something wrong.”
“Several clergy members in the region said they were under pressure to demonstrate their loyalty to the Communist Party. Some churches, for example, have begun extolling Mr. Xi’s campaign to promote “core socialist values” — a slogan meant to offer a secular belief system that bolsters the party’s legitimacy. Other churches have begun displaying their building permits, implicitly endorsing the government’s authority to approve or reject church construction, including crosses. “We have to show that we are loyal Christians,” said an employee of the historic Chengxi Church in Wenzhou, “or else we could face trouble.
“In February 2016, a prominent lawyer was shown on state television confessing to having colluded with foreign forces, especially American organizations, to stir up local Christians. The lawyer, Zhang Kai, had been in Zhejiang providing legal advice to churches that opposed the removal of their crosses.
“Unregistered churches appear vulnerable, too. In December, the police detained several members of the unregistered Living Stone church in southern China’s Guizhou Province after they refused to join a government-run Protestant church. The pastor was later arrested on charges of “divulging state secrets.” “It’s easy for them to fabricate a crime and accuse you,” said the pastor of a large unregistered church in Wenzhou. “We have to be very careful.” “Many worshipers in Shuitou are eager to keep their heads low, in hopes that the storm will blow over.
Pastors of China’s Largest Churches Arrested and Imprisoned
Congyi Church in Hangzhou has been dubbed the largest Chinese church in the world. The pastor there is Gu Yuese, the highest-ranking church official sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In September 2016, Gu was arrested by Chinese police and accused of embezzling $1.6 million. Brendon Hong wrote in the Daily Beast: “Pastor Gu was vocal in his opposition to the destruction of crosses in Zhejiang province. Imprisoned, Gu penned a letter to his congregation to say he is doing well, and that the investigation into the alleged embezzlement was for his “own benefit.” The letter went on: “Please have faith in our government and judicial department. They will do their work rigorously, abiding by the laws and unearthing the truth with impartiality, justice, and public transparency.” Lines like those sound suspicious enough to make many in Gu’s congregation believe he was forced to write the letter, a sentiment shared by Chinese citizens after similar I’m-doing-well letters were made public following the abduction of five booksellers based in Hong Kong. The same language is used in pre-trial televised confessions, which are also believed to be produced via coercion. [Source: Brendon Hong, Daily Beast, May 8, 2016]
“Gu was arrested under Article 73 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law, which states anyone suspected of committing a crime that endangers state security, involving terrorist activities or significant bribes, is placed in “residential surveillance at a designated place.” That means Gu is jailed in a secret location as he awaits final charges. According to Article 73, suspects can be held for up to six months in any location chosen by the authorities, and are denied legal counsel and visits.
In December 2019, Wang Yi, Christian Pastor, and the founder of one of China’s largest unregistered churches was sentenced to nine years in prison for what the government called subversion of state power. The New York Times reported: “Wang, the pastor who founded Early Rain Covenant Church, was detained in December 2018 with more than 100 members of his congregation as part of a crackdown on churches, mosques and temples not registered with the state. While most of Mr. Wang’s parishioners, including his wife, Jiang Rong, were eventually released, Mr. Wang never re-emerged from detention. As part of his sentence, he will also be stripped of his political rights for three years and have 50,000 renminbi, or almost $7,200, of his assets seized, according to the statement. Mr. Wang had become known for taking high-profile positions on politically sensitive issues, including forced abortions and the massacre that crushed the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989. A lawyer by training, Mr. Wang was a well-known blogger before converting to Christianity in 2005. Just a few months later, he was selected to meet President George W. Bush at the White House as part of a program to reach out to Chinese Christians.
In November 2013, Zhang Shaojie, the pastor of the Nanle Church in central China's Henan province was 'detained'. His church was part of China's government-run National Three-Self Patriotic Movement. AFP reported: The pastor and 20 other members of a state-sanctioned Christian church in China have been detained and their whereabouts are unknown, the pastor's daughter and a rights group. It is unusual for authorities to crack down on a state-sanctioned church. Zhang was arrested by nearly a dozen police officers soon after arriving at his office at the church his daughter Zhang Yueyue told AFP. "It's been 48 hours, and we still don't know where our father is," said the 27-year-old daughter. "The government has started to arrest people, so my younger sister and I are running away."The US-based Christian advocacy group ChinaAid said that at least 20 other members of the Protestant church had been detained, and police were stationed outside the building on Sunday to prevent members from going inside to worship. "Some of them were arrested from their home, some from the church," Jack Sun, an employee of ChinaAid, told AFP. "All the other Christians of that church are very worried about them." [Source: AFP, November 18, 2013]
Image Sources: 1) Early crosses, Socdigest.com; 2) Bible and Baptism. Open Door.com; 3) House Church, China Aid; 4) Bible distribution. Chinese Protestant Church; 5) House church raid, Peace Hall com
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2021