|Gulou Church’s cross during demolition on Aug. 12, 2014.
(Photo courtesy of Zan Aizong)
China Aid Association
On Aug. 11, authorities from the Dongzhou neighborhood of Fuyang, Hangzhou, climbed into the courtyard of a house church and began destroying everything they could access inside the church.
“I went over there yesterday because the church members said the authorities would come in the afternoon to demolish the building,” Zan Aizong, a Hangzhou Christian, told China Aid on Aug. 12. “By the time I arrived, the brothers and sisters were singing hymns and praying at the gathering site. Many of them were elderly people. Around 50-60 people were singing, and they were against the forced demolition.
“The gate of the gathering site was closed, and the [government] secretly climbed over the wall and entered the gate,” Zan said. “Then, they cut the power. All these acts are illegal because the demolishing company can’t cut off the electricity without permission from the electric company.
“The authorities demolished the kitchen in which the brothers and sisters used to have their meals, and they also demolished an aluminum shed,” Zan said. After destroying the kitchen, authorities went to the second floor, Zan said, where they were only able to destroy the windows, doors, and wiring. The team left the building at 3:55 p.m.
“As the gathering site is a religious site, the government should demolish it only when it can resettle us,” Zan said. “Moreover, the government doesn’t have the complete paperwork for the forced demolition… If they say that something violates the law, they should point out which law it violates. They can’t demolish it through force. Besides, they entered the premises secretly by climbing. This also violates the law.”
“This [happened] because there’s a campaign going on right now called ‘Three Rectifications and One Demolition,’” Zhao Zhihua, the building’s owner, said on Aug. 12. “They mainly demolish the buildings of religious sites that violate the building codes. I don’t think the place they demolished yesterday violated the building codes. I will consult with them about compensation.”
China Aid’s Hong Kong-based reporter called the Dongzhou neighborhood office to investigate the situation. When he asked why the gathering site was demolished, the officer on the phone said the building “violated the building codes…as for how, I don’t know the specifics.”
Gulou Church’s cross demolished during night
During the night on Aug. 12, authorities began removing the cross topping Gulou Church in Hangzhou, the city’s largest church. The demolition lasted through the next morning.
“There were between 100-200 worshippers who stood by. I arrived at Gulou Church at 10 p.m.,” an anonymous believer said. “By the time I arrived, the [believers] had already [been given] a curfew. Some people from our church had already gone into Gulou Church to pray. There was no curfew when they entered the church. After the curfew was instated, the [authorities] only allowed people to come out [of the church] but no to go in.
“I personally witnessed some arguments between the worshippers and the special police. Women from the church said that the church belongs to them and asked why the authorities didn’t allow them to go in. Some women knelt down and prayed,” the believer said.
“There were about 100 police officers and security guards,” said Zou Wei, a Hangzhou-based human rights defender, who was at the scene. “All through the night, nearly 200 worshippers arrived from various places.”
“The [authorities] began the demolition at about 10 p.m. First of all, they knocked off the concrete at the bottom of the cross until there were only four steel rods. Then, they began to cut [the rods] off. By 12:40 a.m., all the steel rods were cut off and the cross was lifted up,” another Christian said.
“I’ve learned from some worshippers, including a pastor, that the clock tower of Gulou Church violated the building codes,” the Christian said. “However, the clock tower is the base for the cross. Government employees have long come to inspect the Gulou Church, and they said they would demolish the cross.”
“Some people among the worshippers say this is the first church in the urban area of Hangzhou whose cross has been demolished. This is not an ending point, but a starting point,” another church member said.
“The forced demolition of crosses demonstrates that the campaign of ‘Three Rectifications and One Demolition’ in Zhejiang province has not stopped at all,” said Guo Baosheng, a China Aid contributor and former Chinese house church pastor. “All signs show that it will continue and the purpose is to reduce the effect of Christianity upon the society.
“On the other hand, judging from the Conference in Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement [that] convened last week, they want to actively promote the sinicization of Christianity, and the church must sinicized, too. Demolition of crosses is part of the sinicization of church buildings,” Guo said.
“The crosses of the church may be demolished, but the crosses in the hearts of Christian can never be demolished,” said Zan Aizong, a Hangzhou-based independent journalist and a Christian.
Gulou Church was originally built in 1885 by the Northern American Presbyterian Church. It was shut down in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution and opened again in 1979, making it one of the first churches to reopen to the public after the Cultural Revolution. The original building was demolished in May 1998 for the construction of the Zhonghe Overhead Highway. Construction began at a new location in 2002; the 1,200-seat building was completed in 2006.