One year after authorities sent excavators to tear down the large Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou, China, officials have returned to remove crosses from the top of churches in Zhejiang province, even drafting regulations banning crosses from the cityscape.
Dozens of churches in Lishui city had their crosses removed in May, with one cross burning up as the cutting machinery malfunctioned, according to ChinaAid. The demolitions come after a months-long break in the Zhejiang campaign that saw more than 425 churches lose their crosses or have their entire buildings destroyed. (Christian Solidarity Worldwide created an interactive timeline of the Zhejiang church demolitions.)
At the time, the government said the “Three Rectification and One Demolition” campaign aimed to take down illegal structures, but Christians believed the government was specifically targeting the numerous churches in Wenzhou, as officials left other illegal buildings unscathed. An unpublicized policy statement obtained by The New York Times stated the true aim of the campaign was to “bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the building,” thus decreasing the visibility of the symbol of Christian faith.
In the past month, that purpose came to light in new proposed regulations for religious buildings in Zhejiang province. The detailed 36-page bill says churches must place their crosses on the front of the building rather than on top. It also requires crosses to be the same color as the church and not exceed one-tenth of the building’s height. Further expressing the government’s fear the “Western” religion of Christianity is taking over, it notes “religious buildings should embody the local style and cultural features.”
Other regulations describe the height-to-width ratios of Catholic and Protestant crosses (1:0.618 and 3:2 respectively), the use of solar power to heat water in the bathrooms and kitchens, as well as where and how churches can be built, according to the Times. The area’s provincial government encouraged citizens to write their thoughts on the new regulations, although the likelihood of the government actually taking the concerns to heart is questionable.
“This creates a legal foundation for the forced cross demolition campaign in Zhejiang province … and, further, it creates an excuse for the campaign to continue,” China Aid said on its website.
Officials injured and arrested local Christians who have surrounded their churches to protect crosses, said Zhan Gang, general secretary of the Chinese House Church Alliance. Some churches have had a back-and-forth with the government, putting their crosses back up once officials left, only to have them taken down again.
“They want to temper the growth of Christianity by taking down the crosses and stop Christianity’s influence in society” Zhan said. He fears the recent actions against the churches will give nonbelievers a negative impression of Christianity, as they see “Christians doesn’t have the government’s protection.”
But the storm is only beginning. Zhejiang authorities ordered the removal of crosses on all churches in the Fuyang district of Hangzhou and Lishui on May 15, ChinaAid said. The churches in the area have planned prayer vigils.
Zhan believes the government is unfairly trying to control only Christianity—Muslim or Buddhist religious buildings have not been similarly regulated. He fears the church will continue to face oppression as the cross removal campaign spreads.
“We predict that the situation in Zhejiang—the cross removals, the rules dictating that new churches no longer look like churches—will become a model that will be pushed to the rest of the country,” he said.
China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Email: [email protected]