Authorities continue to strip crosses from churches in east China despite claims Beijing had ordered an end to “anti-Christian” campaign
By Tom Phillips
11:47AM BST 15 Apr 2015
Hopes that a government demolition campaign targeting Chinese churches had ended have been dashed after the crosses were stripped from at least three places of worship in recent days.
China has faced international condemnation over the total or partial demolition at least 400 churches in the eastern province of Zhejiang since early 2014.
|Authorities remove the red cross from the roof of
the En Quan church in Ningbo earlier this month
A Chinese bishop last month claimed that Beijing had ordered an end to the campaign, which Zhejiang officials say is an attempt to combat “illegal structures” but church members see as a deliberate attack on their faith.
However, a recent spike in cross removals, which appeared to have petered out, suggests reports that the campaign had ended were incorrect.
On April 2, authorities removed the cross from a church in Cixi, a city of around 105 miles south of Shanghai, according to activists.
Two days later the cross was removed from the roof of the En Quan church in the neighbouring city of Ningbo, the scene of previous cross removals.
On Monday morning, a third church – Qingyian Youzhu – was targeted in Lishui, another city in Zhejiang.
“I never believed in that order [to end the campaign],” said Zhang Mingxuan, the head of the Chinese House Church Alliance.
|A cross is removed from the roof of a church in
Lishui city on Monday
The continued targeting of Christian places of worship stemmed from a mistaken belief among some officials that “our religion might threaten the regime”, Mr Zhang added.
Christianity is China’s fastest growing religion and some predict the Asian country could have the world’s largest Christian congregation within a decade with 160 million believers.
Many of last year’s demolitions and cross removals took place in Wenzhou, a major coastal city that is sometimes called the “Jerusalem of the East” because of its large Christian population.
This year the campaign was likely to spread to other cities in the province such as Qingtian and Jinhua, predicted Zheng Leguo, a Christian preacher from Zhejiang.
“If there is a big reaction from the public, maybe it will slow down and become less intense,” he said.
The latest interventions were a sign that “this evil campaign continues,” said Bob Fu, the head of China Aid, a US-based Christian campaigning group. “This ought to stop if China wants to earn the respect of the international community.”
Chinese officials deny they are deliberately singling out churches, even though documents have emerged supporting claims the campaign is designed to stifle the growth of Christianity.
“There is no such thing [as an anti-church campaign],” one official was quoted as saying by state media last year.
Additional reporting Ailin Tang