Angry Christians in Wenzhou, known as ‘China’s Jerusalem’, fight back against attempt to strip church of cross in government-led demolition campaign
Security guards tried to stop members of Wenzhou’s Guantou church from entering their places of worship to stop the cross’s removal. Photo: TOM PHILLIPS
By Tom Phillips, Shanghai
9:21PM BST 11 Jun 2014
Demolition workers were forced to abandon attempts to strip a cross from a church in a city known as ‘China’s Jerusalem’ after angry Christians forced their way through a blockade of armed guards.
The scuffles broke out as security guards carrying black batons and riot shields tried to stop members of Wenzhou’s Guantou church from entering their place of worship to stop the cross’s removal in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The demolition team withdrew after congregants had retaken their church, one witness told The Telegraph.
“Five or six churchgoers were slightly injured since the security people used some violence,” they added.
The failed cross removal is the latest development in a government-led demolition campaign in the eastern province of Zhejiang. Activists believe the initiative is a deliberate Communist Party attempt to rein in the explosive growth of Christianity, China’s fastest growing religion.
Demolition team attempting to remove a cross from
Wenzhou’s Guantou church
Authorities claim the so-called “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign is targeting all illegal buildings and not just churches. However, Beijing has faced increasing criticism, in and outside of China, over the demolitions and cross removals.
The campaign “contravenes international norms and Chinese regulations governing religious affairs,” the United States’ Congressional-Executive Commission on China said on Friday.
The campaign is designed to bring “excessive religious sites” and “overly popular” religious activities under control, according to an internal government document obtained by The New York Times last month.
The scale of Zhejiang’s campaign has shocked the region’s large Christian community.
More than 60 churches have suffered some kind of intervention since the start of this year, according to a list compiled last month by Asia News, a Catholic news agency.
Many of the interventions have taken place in Wenzhou, a port city that has one of China’s largest Christian populations and is sometimes called the “Jerusalem of the East”.
However, recent weeks have seen the threat of demolition spread to other parts of Zhejiang province, including Ningbo, a major city around 140 miles south of Shanghai.
One thousand Ningbo Christians were forced to leave their place of worship last month after officials decided their 10-storey mega-church was an eyesore that should be destroyed.
Church activists and academics are increasingly convinced that Zhejiang’s “anti-church” drive has Beijing’s support while some fear it may be a precursor for similar actions across the country.
“The weak government wants to demonstrate its strength but unfortunately it does this by bullying a loving and charitable church,” said Zheng Leguo, a protestant leader from Wenzhou.
Wednesday’s incident began at about 5am when around 100 members of Wenzhou’s Guantou church arrived at their place of worship to find workers attempting to remove its towering red cross with a large crane.
“When I arrived at the church, the crane was already at work, near the cross, and some people had already climbed up there and had damaged the cross’ exterior,” said one local Christian, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
However, demolition workers were forced to retreat after church members forced their way through the security cordon, retook their place of worship and disconnected the power supply, the witness added.
The attempted cross removal follows a similar intervention against Wenzhou’s Dongyang Church on May 30.
Demolition team attempting to remove a cross from Wenzhou’s
In that case, demolition teams attempted to carry out their work under the cloak of darkness by arriving at 3am, church members said.
So far, Protestant churches appear to have been the main targets but Catholic places of worship have also been affected.
Continued demolitions could “complicate the dialogue” between Beijing and the Vatican as the two sides attempted to improve long strained relations, a source close to the Holy See told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post last week.
In April, members of Wenzhou’s Sanjiang mega-church also attempted to fend off demolition teams by forming a human shield around their place of worship. It was torn down less than a month later.
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