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Sinosphere: Demolition Begins on Church That Triggered Protest

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The New York Times

Sinosphere
By Austin Ramzy

Demolition has begun on a church in the southeastern Chinese province of Zhejiang that thousands of worshipers had tried to protect after the authorities said it violated local building codes.

The Sanjiang Christian Church in Yongjia County, near the city of Wenzhou, was registered as part of China’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the country’s official Protestant organization, and not an underground congregation of the kind that often run afoul of China’s controls on religion.

But the Sanjiang Church still upset local officials, who said it was too large and its cross too tall. When its demolition seemed imminent earlier this month, thousands of worshipers gathered to protect the structure. Several older congregants slept inside the building to ward off bulldozers.

The negotiations failed, and on Monday several demolition machines were photographed removing the outer walls of the structure. Images posted online Tuesday showed the church partially collapsed.

Zhejiang Daily, the official newspaper of the provincial government, portrayed the demolition of the Sanjiang Church as an administrative matter that had to be carried out to ensure fair application of the law. In a front-page story on Tuesday, it said that the church was built more than four times larger than the 1,881 square meters originally permitted. “The Yongjia County government has, according to the law, begun to forcibly demolish this illegal structure,” the newspaper said.

The paper accused some local residents of “instigating some believers to gather at this illegal structure, publicly interfere with attempts to rectify this illegal structure and bring about a harmful influence to society.”

Christian organizations said that the Sanjiang Church was the victim of a campaign to clamp down on religion in Zhejiang. Two smaller houses of worship in the province, a Protestant church in the town of Zhoushan and a Catholic church in Pingyang County, were demolished over the past week, according to ChinaAid, a United States-based advocacy group for Christians in China. The organization said that at least four Zhejiang Christians had also been detained.

Several members of the Sanjiang Church could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, with their phones apparently turned off.

Wenzhou is considered one of the most devout areas of China, and large Christian churches and Buddhist temples are prominent in the smaller towns outside the port city. People from Wenzhou often work abroad, and local Christians say the money they send home helps finance church and temple construction.

Work on the Sanjiang Church was finished in December after two and a half years of construction. Members raised the building cost of 30 million renminbi, or about $4.8 million, through private donations.

Mia Li contributed research.

http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/demolition-begins-on-church-that-triggered-protest/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1


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