Edited by China Aid
Chongyi Church, a government-approved Christian church in Hangzhou, China, criticized a draft of Rules on Religious Structures in Zhejiang Province proposed by the local government. Approved by the Chinese government and reputed as the largest Chinese church in the world, Chongyi Church released a statement, saying that the Rules imposed many unreasonable requirements on Catholic and Christian structures. It also pointed out that the Rules shows excessive interference with churches’ freedom of using religious structures, which is a violation of the basic principle by which the state manages religion. On Friday (May 15), Chongyi Church’s website seemed to become inaccessible, showing only “Website is under maintenance.”
Previously, the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau and the Construction Bureau of Zhejiang province posted a public notice on their official websites to collect feedback from the public on the Rules created in August 2014 and indicated that the draft will be revised on the basis of sorting out and absorbing reasonable opinions from various sources and then released and put into trial use after being reviewed and verified by experts. The Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau indicated that the Rules were created to safeguard citizens’ freedom of religious belief, reinforce the management of religious affairs according to the law, promote the scientific standardization of the design of religious structures, and advance the healthy and orderly development of religion. The Rules cover religious structures of Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism and Christianity.
One of the most controversial issues centered on the draft is the specific description of Catholic and Christian churches’ crosses. It says that the crosses should be affixed to a building facade and be no more than one-tenth of the facade’s height. The color of crosses also must fit with the facade and surroundings. A public statement released by Chongyi Church said, “The cross is the symbol of Christian faith and the mark of love. For nearly 2,000 years, it has been placed on top of church building, not wholly affixed to a building facade. Such regulations violate the basic principles of Christianity and trample on the legislative requirement and principle that state laws must respect freedom of religion.” The statement also pointed out that “the Rules use vague language with little accuracy; once implemented, it’s very likely to cause chaos in execution and religious conflicts, which will harm social stability.”
In 2014, the Chinese government-approved National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China said that the Christian population in China ranged from 23 million to 40 million. Zhejiang province has a higher number of Christians than many provinces. The Zhejiang city of Wenzhou is called “China’s Jerusalem” by the media.
Since February 2014, the demolition of churches and crosses took place in Baiquan town, Zhoushan, Zhejiang, which later spread to Wenzhou. The Zhejiang government said that this is part of the province-wide “Three Rectifications and One Demolition”(rectifying old residential areas, old factory sites, villages within cities, and demolishing illegal structures) campaign, and that crosses outside church buildings are subject to rectification because they affect their surroundings. Christians in Zhejiang province claimed that the crosses of hundreds of churches had been removed across the whole province in 2014, including the most well-known Sanjiang Church of Wenzhou, which was built over 12 years and cost 30 million Yuan (US $5 million). The government’s rationale for demolishing the church is that it was an “illegal structure.”
The U.S.-based religious rights organization China Aid indicated that, last month, the crosses of 12 churches in Lishui, Zhejiang, were forcibly demolished. In March of this year, Huang Yizi, a pastor from Pingyang County, Wenzhou, Zhejiang, was sentenced to one-year’s imprisonment for attempting to stop the demolition of the cross.
[Editor’s Note: The following appendix consists of the original feedback Chongyi Church posted on their website. The document was retrieved from an archived version of the church’s website before it was shutdown.]
Feedback and Thoughts after Studying “The Rules on Religious Structures in Zhejiang Province” (trial use) (draft for soliciting feedback)
According to “A Letter from Zhejiang Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau and Zhejiang Housing and Urban and Rural Construction Bureau on Gathering Feedback related to ‘Rules for Religious Structures’(draft for soliciting feedback),” the church committee of Hangzhou Chongyi Christian Church carefully studied and discussed the Rules. We think the Rules, generally speaking, provided good instructions on the design and construction of religious structures, but we also think that some of the articles of the Rules go against the law of our country and legal principles, as well as the legislative principle by which the Rules were created. Some articles in the Rules fail to comply with the provisions of the Law on Structures and lack scientific and legitimate rationale, and therefore need to be revised or deleted. Our feedback is as follows:
1. According to the Constitution of our county, the state respects freedom of religion, including the content, ceremony, and activities of a religious faith. Meanwhile, the overarching principle of the Rules, i.e. 1.0.1, (the Rules are for the purpose of “safeguarding the quality and safety of religious structures”) and some other articles, such as 3.3.6, all indicate that the legislative intention of the Rules is to respect the traditions and customs of all religions. The Rules are meant to only provide specific guidelines on the quality and safety of religious structures. But article 4.6.4 goes against the requirement of respecting religious freedom, traditions, and customs. It is a serious violation of Christian tradition because the cross, as the religious symbol of Christianity and its “sign of faith and love,” has for nearly 2,000 years always been placed on top of churches and has never been “wholly affixed to a building facade.” This regulation is a blasphemy against the fundamental beliefs of Christianity and a violation of the legislative requirement and principle that the state’s law ought to respect religious freedom.
2. Some articles in the Rules are contrary to the regulations of the Law on Structures. They also are not consistent with the legislative requirement for scientific and legitimate rationale.
Article 4.1.4 of the Rule states: “The total height of religious structures should comply with the requirements set out for urban and rural planning; they must fit with surrounding buildings. Maximum height in general should not exceed 24 meters and the additional construction on top of religious structures should not exceed six meters.” According to our country’s laws and regulations on building and planning, the height of buildings and other specifications are determined by the specific locations of the buildings combined with other factors, such as geography, environment and safety, etc. Because of that, our country’s law on construction sets out a specific process for the construction of buildings, including planning, design, and reviewing for approval. Therefore, imposing restrictions on the height of all religious structures throughout Zhejiang province in article 4.1.4 is a violation of our country’s laws and regulations on building construction and planning. It is neither legally justifiable, nor in compliance with scientific and reasonable legislative requirements. Therefore, it should be deleted.
Article 4.6.4 of the Rules concerns Christianity’s fundamental religious symbol. Based on article 1.0.1, which spells out the purpose of the Rules as “safeguarding the quality and safety of religious structures,” we have good reason to conclude that the legislative department made adjustments to the laws on the grounds that the location of crosses (on top of buildings) and the size and height of crosses violated requirements for the quality and safety of buildings. But we think that, as a technical guideline, the Rules’ requirement that “the crosses should be wholly affixed to a building facade and be no more than one-tenth of the facade’s height” is not validated by sufficient facts and scientific proof, which [therefore] violates the legislative principle of scientific rationality and precision. We think such content should not appear in the Rules and we strongly suggest that article 4.6.4 be removed from the Rules.
3. The Rules excessively interfere with the freedom of churches to legitimately use their space, which is a violation of the content and principle of the Law on the Right of Properties, as well as article 1.0.1 of the Rules, which says that “the purpose of the Rules is to guarantee the quality and safety of religious structures.” Therefore, articles such as 4.6.2 and 4.6.3 should be deleted.
4. The Rules uses vague language with little accuracy, and once implemented is very likely to cause chaos in execution and religious conflicts, which will harm social stability. For example, article 4.1.4 requires [that structures] “fit with surroundings” and article 4.6.4 requires that “color needs to fit with church facade and surroundings.” Here, “fit with” is a vague expression and is hard to implement, and therefore is very likely to cause disputes.
5. According to the principle of non-retroactivity of law, the Rules should not be applied to pre-existing religious structures. This should be clearly specified in the Rules, in compliance with the legislative requirement.
6. The Rules are created for all religious structures in Zhejiang province, but we think the content of the Rules shows differentiated treatment. For example, it proposed many unreasonable requirements for Catholic and Christian structures and excessive interference with the freedom of churches to legitimately use church space and facilities, which is a violation of the basic principle by which the state manages religion.
Hangzhou Chongyi Christian Church
May 9, 2015