Zhejiang church persecution continues; veteran journalist provides commentary

In Taizhou, Zhejiang, Chengguan Church’s
cross was removed on Dec. 2, 2014. (Photo
courtesy of Chengguan Church.)

 China Aid Association

By Rachel Ritchie

(Yuyao, Zhejiang—Dec. 5, 2014) Two Christian churches in China’s coastal Zhejiang province had crosses removed from the tops of their buildings in the past week in what appears to be a continuation of the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign, despite reports that some officials have announced that the campaign has ended. Meanwhile, yesterday, a government-registered church received a demolition notice, stating the church building would be demolished today.

Yuyaocheng Church in Zhejiang’s Yuyao was targeted for cross demolition by authorities on the evening of Nov. 25. Believers reported that at around 8 p.m., about 600 police officers and security agents escorted demolition professionals, who brought in forklifts and cranes, to the church and then cordoned the area surrounding the church.

At around 10:30 p.m., believers began to argue with the authorities about the demolition. The police dispersed Christians who were praying at the church to a small park several dozen yards away and forced them to move their vehicles, which were parked at the church. Only about 200 worshippers were allowed to be in the area.

The demolition began around 1:30 a.m. and was completed by 4 a.m. on Nov. 26.

“The cross at Yuyaocheng Church was taken down,” one Christian said. “We know that many people came to the church. The people in charge of the church have all the certificates, and the church was a legal building.”

“This is a new church,” said Zan Aizong, a Hangzhou-based journalist who has worked freelance after the newspaper “Haoyang Bao” fired him as its Zhejiang bureau chief in 2006 for publishing critiques of the government. “By 2009, [when construction on the church began], the law concerning the building codes was already complete. In the past five or six years, the law has been very strict [so] it is impossible that the church violates the building codes. Neither do they say that the church violates the building codes. They only say the cross violates the building codes. The issue now is not the violation of codes; it is their attitude towards the cross.”

When Yuyaocheng Church held a groundbreaking ceremony in February 2009, local government officials, including members of the local Standing Committee and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement committee attended. The 30-million-Yuan (U.S. $4.87 million) church was built to accommodate the surplus of believers in the area.

A week later, on Tuesday, authorities in Taizhou, Zhejiang, removed Chengguan Church’s cross.

“Taking down crosses has caused a major international reaction,” Zan said. “I can’t figure out why they are still taking down crosses.” Commentary from Zan about the ongoing persecution against churches in Zhejiang follows the story.

In Lucheng District, Wenzhou, Xialing Church, a government-sanctioned church that was founded in 1993, received a notice yesterday from the Lucheng District’s Shuangyu Neighborhood Office, which stated the entire church would be forcibly demolished today due to the church’s repeated refusal to remove its cross.

The church’s original building was demolished by the government to make way for a highway. In 1999, the church’s current building was completed with government approval.

Observations and reflections on the campaign of dismantling crosses in Zhejiang province and religious persecution 

By Zan Aizong

Translated and edited by China Aid

Known as the “Zhejiang model,” a pilot program launching a campaign of religious persecution against Christians has been in place for nearly a year. Its characteristic is forcibly dismantling the crosses on top of legally registered Christian churches. All the written notices for dismantling the crosses issued by the government never mention the crosses themselves. Instead, they give the excuse of “dismantling illegal structures.”

It has already been more than 10 months since the campaign to dismantle the crosses of Christian churches in Zhejiang was launched in January 2014. After April of this year, efforts to dismantle the crosses and churches entered an intense period and most of the action happened in the Wenzhou area. July, August and September saw a large number of crosses being taken down—at least 300 churches’ crosses throughout the province were removed. According to incomplete statistics, the number of crosses dismantled in Wenzhou, Jinhua and the districts, counties and cities under their jurisdiction was more than 100.

Yuyaocheng Church’s cross was removed on
Nov. 26, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Yuyaocheng

On the night of April 28, the most prominent incident in this campaign, the demolition of the Sanjiang Church building in Yongjia County, Wenzhou occurred. The church building, which took 10 years of construction and cost more than 30 million Yuan (U.S. $4.87 million), was flattened by the government overnight. In addition, the church’s missionaries were taken into custody, and even netizens who secretly took photos and videos were summoned and detained.

Sanjiang Church was located at the mouth of the Oujiang River and across the street from Shangri-la Hotel in Yongjia County. Its cross was relatively high, and at first, the government only demanded that the church dismantle the cross. However, Sanjiang Church resolutely rejected their demand because a church without a cross would no longer be a church. Believers wouldn’t do so even after the whole church was demolished; they guarded the cross until the last minute. On Oct. 29, the case of Sanjiang Church’s missionary Guo Yunhua and two other worshippers was tried in court, six months after they were taken into custody. The charge against them was they were suspected of misappropriating the village’s arable land. However, according to many news reports and many local residents, the original Sanjiang Church was built halfway on the slope of a hill called Lion Mountain. The land it is built on is rocky, but the government claims it is fertile land.

According to local Christians who attended the trial, they learned during the trial that the government spent around 20 million Yuan (U.S. $3.25 million) on demolishing Sanjiang Church. Within that figure, the expense for dismantling the building was 6 million Yuan (U.S. $975,000), and the fees for stability maintenance and security were 1.2 million Yuan (U.S. $195,000). [Editor’s note: The author does not include information on where the remaining 12.8 million Yuan (U.S. $2.08 million) spent by the government was used.]

Nowadays, the land on which Sanjiang Church once stood has been restored to its original appearance like a hill slope, on which the government has planted small trees and a lawn. There is no trace whatsoever that a church once stood there. The government spent tens of millions of Yuan, nearly a month of time and dispatched nearly 1,000 police officers to take down a cross—a sign of Christian belief. In this, we can see how strong their determination in persecuting the Christian belief is.

According to my observations, this campaign to dismantle crosses throughout Zhejiang that has shocked the world is carried out, at least, at the order of the Zhejiang provincial leading group and the specially-created office of “Three Rectifications and One Demolition,” which claims to seek improvements of old factory buildings, farm houses, residential buildings and to demolish illegal buildings. [The orders] should involve the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee, provincial government, United Front Work Department, Land and Natural Resources Department, Construction, Religious Affairs Bureau, Public Security Department and other functionary departments. The campaign may even involve a higher level of leaders from Beijing because the grass-roots governments in Wenzhou don’t really have the rights to initiate such campaigns and to express themselves.

There are basically several situations, as follows, in this campaign of religious persecution targeting the crosses: A government department demands that the church itself dismantle the cross themselves. If they don’t demolish it themselves, then the government proposes to help the church remove the cross. After the demolition of the cross, a cross must not be rebuilt on top of the church building, and the cross can only appear on a vertical wall of the building. For those churches that don’t take down the cross or who are against the removal of the cross, their crosses are typically taken down at midnight, by force or by covert operations. Quite a few dismantled crosses were secretly removed without any evidence. Mostly, the churches whose crosses have been demolished are all legal churches that were approved and registered with the Religious Affairs Bureau or with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the Chinese Christian Council (CCC). People in charge in the local churches’ TSPM and CCC were forced to publicly announce that they support the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign’s demolition of religious sites.

Except for Sanjiang Church and a few others that were accused of being “illegal structures” and were demolished, the government’s main targets are crosses. Some of the churches that violate the building codes are not demolished. During the forced cross removals, urban management personnel, armed police and special police were used to maintain social stability. None of the forced demolitions was reviewed, tried in court or had judicial verdicts. In cases of churches that refused to have their crosses removed, the government cut off their water and power supply. Authorities also threaten the missionaries and Christians in leadership positions. They also cut off water and power to businesses owned by worshippers. Some [believers’] family members were forced to quit their jobs or were demoted in the government departments [in which they work]. Quite a few Christian pastors and missionaries from churches in Wenzhou who are against the forced dismantling were taken into custody, and their families were threatened, warned and fined. TSPM and CCC departments that have working relationships with the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), [which has close ties to the United Front Work Department], are in a vulnerable position. They are not trusted by the Christian churches, and the churches even cut off their relationship with these TSPM and CCC departments.

We can conclude that this round of persecution against Christians for their religious belief was ordered by Beijing in an effort to promote the sinicization of Christianity; these actions were not the self-chosen by the local governments. The [persecution] only started in Zhejiang. If the policy is smoothly carried out in Zhejiang, they will probably continue to carry out the policy in other provinces where there are many Christians. However, this will not happen in Beijing, Shanghai and other municipalities directly under the jurisdiction of the central government or provincial capital cities. This is because the Chinese government is very careful about the international image of its big cities. Relatively speaking, Wenzhou is just a prefecture-level city along China’s southeastern coast where the impact of the international image is low and where it is suitable for Beijing to carry out its “sinicization of Christianity.”

Wenzhou, Zhejiang is one of the places in China where the number of Christians grows the fastest. It is also a city with the most Christian churches in the nation. In places such as Pingyang County, Cangnan County, Longwan District, Yongjia County, Rui’an, Yueqing, and other counties and municipalities in the Wenzhou area, the history of Christianity is more than 200 years old. In almost every village, there are Christian or Catholic churches. Every few miles along the local, provincial and national highways in Wenzhou, a church with a cross at the top can be seen. By the end of October, one could barely see any churches with a cross along the highways in Wenzhou. All that can be seen is churches without crosses.

This time, the government mostly dismantled crosses—not churches. What is their purpose? Individuals in Wenzhou’s Christian churches think that the authorities are trying to divide Christian groups in order to facilitate their disintegration from inside. If they only demolish churches, then the crosses certainly couldn’t be protected. Christian churches would certainly and strongly be against it, and they could even fight against the government’s efforts. The government would have to spend a lot of money on human resources, material resources and on maintaining stability. They would not be able to achieve their goal in a short time. By only dismantling the crosses, the persecution seems insignificant from the outside. What has been taken down can be rebuilt. Or churches can wait and rebuild the cross until after the climax of the campaign. However, in the actual forced cross demolitions, things are more complicated than we think:

First, dismantling crosses can create differences between local Christian church leaders. The more pressure the government exerts, the more such differences will present themselves, and once the people in the churches who agree to let the government remove the cross win a majority, the work of demolishing the crosses will unfold very fast. Once the cross is taken down, the people in the church will blame each other and even shift responsibilities to each other. These churches may split, fight amongst themselves, and create chaos between the churches. In fact, some churches in Wenzhou already face such a situation. The government comes out and tries to mediate between the two parties. Because of this, the government gets involved in the churches’ internal affairs and sometimes even overrules the churches’ decision-makers in order to disintegrate the churches.

Second, the leaders of some Christian churches in Wenzhou have made it clear that they will fight for their religious freedom and that they are resolutely against the cross removals. They not only refuse to take the cross down themselves but would also risk their lives to guard the cross. To them, even if the church is demolished, they would never let people remove the cross. Such church leaders tend to be firm in their Christian faith and obey the Bible’s teachings. They also have the courage to take on important responsibilities, which shows they are true and living witnesses of the Christian faith. External forces can’t intervene in the church’s internal unity.

Third, the, United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau, both of which have always engaged in united front work, have basically failed in their efforts. Since the United Front Work Department and other government departments are not able to protect the legally registered TSPM churches and their crosses, Christian churches will cut off all relationships with these departments and agencies. Previously, Christian churches in Wenzhou were affiliated with the TSPM in name only in order to be allowed to build a church building. In name, they agreed to accept the administration of the United Front Work Department and the Religious Affairs Bureau. In reality, the churches are independent of the TSPM system;

Fourth, the CCC and the TSPM are controlled by the government and have basically been demoted to an ornamental act. They no longer function as a “united front” to unify Christian churches in various places. The TSPM, as it has been know since it was founded by Zhou Enlai and other Chinese Communist Party leaders in 1954, may come to an end with this cross removal campaign. Churches that originally registered with the TSPM in Wenzhou have become independent and no longer take notice of true TSPM churches, the Religious Affairs Bureau, or the United Front Work Department.

Through this campaign, the churches and worshippers in Wenzhou have seen relatively clearly that the removal of crosses is actually persecution of Christian faith—not the so-called demolition of illegal structures. When the government dismantles crosses and does not demolish churches, their true goal is to cause the disintegration of churches from the inside. Removing crosses is the first step officials take; the next step will be getting involved in the churches’ internal affairs. Their goal will be to “build harmony with one heart and one mind.” Their efforts will start with pilot programs and the expansion of pilot programs, and their focus will be “five aspects,” which are “introduction of policies and legal codes, excellent service, law-based administration, and harmonious administration.” This is the so-called new way of exploring the enhancement of religious administration according to law and promoting the suitability between religion and socialism.

The above information about the government’s plan is from a speech delivered by Chen Yixin, the secretary of the Wenzhou Municipal Party Committee, on Oct. 20 at conference introducing a pilot program for religion in Wenzhou. In the meantime, the Institute of Religion under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences held a seminar on the sinicization of Christianity at Liushi Church in Yueqing, Wenzhou. This confirmed the message that the sinicization of Christianity is unavoidable. However, practically speaking, the plans are all surface formality and red tape; the government can’t confuse and cheat the worshippers who persist in their true Christian belief.

Because Christian churches in Wenzhou oppose the cross removals, their reaction to the campaign and their disobedience to the government are very strong. Since July, worshippers in Christian churches in Pingyang County, Cangnan County, and other places in Wenzhou have been defending their churches’ crosses. For some, this defense lasted more than 100 days. Power outages and water outages have also lasted more than 100 days. Worshippers in Christian churches resolutely object to the removal and demolition of churches’ crosses.

For example, people at Xialing Church in Lucheng District, Wenzhou and Gospel Church in Pingyang County, Wenzhou have guarded their churches for more than 100 days. Whenever the government tried to dismantle the crosses in secret or by force, hundreds of worshippers would come to the cross and made it impossible for the officials to remove the cross. The government then had to withdraw. So far, the crosses at these churches have not been taken down.

Another example is Wuxi Church in Longwan District, Wenzhou. Their cross was secretly taken down on three occasions, and they reinstalled it each time. In a church in Wanquan Parish, lawyers founded a huge delegation after the government issued a written notice of the forced demolition of the church’s cross. The lawyers also submitted applications for administrative reconsiderations or sued the government. As a result, more than 10 churches’ crosses have remained intact so far.

The governments in Wenzhou learned this lesson and from then on, they never sent a written notice before they arrived to dismantle a church’s cross, nor do they deliver any legal basis for their actions. Instead, they have changed their tactics and have started to remove the crosses in secret or by force. Some of the crosses taken down in Cangnan County, Wenzhou have been rebuilt and reinstalled. For quite a few other churches, it remains to be seen whether church leaders will replace the crosses. The government’s Chinese-style surprise attack method of enforcing the law is the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign, and most of it lasted only a short time. After a while, everything returned to normal. This is a typical rule by man, not rule by law.

In November, at the time I am writing this article, there have been no new cases in which a church’s cross has been taken down. This means Zhejiang’s cross removal campaign may be coming to an end. Beijing may be calculating its political gains and losses, its benefits and costs. They may be calculating the pressure coming from inside and outside China. If their conclusion is that there were more losses than gains, then this “Zhejiang model” targeting Christian belief is hopefully ending and other provinces can be spared.

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Contact
Tel: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.chinaaid.org | www.monitorchina.org

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