The Guardian: China's Christians protest 'evil' Communist campaign to tear down crosses

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Guardian
Tom Phillips in Beijing
Last modified on Monday 27 July 201502.20 EDT

More than 1200 crosses have been torn down by authorities in the past two years sparking anger and street protests

Christian leaders – including an 89-year-old bishop – have taken to the streets of eastern China to protest against an “evil” campaign to remove crosses that many see as a coordinated Communist party attack on their faith.

A man stands near the razed remains of a Catholic church in a
village in Pingyang county of Wenzhou  in eastern China's
Zhejiang province. Authorities have forcibly removed hundreds
rooftop crosses from Protestant and Catholic churches in the region.
Photograph: Didi Tang/AP
Activists say more than 1,200 crosses have been stripped from churches in Zhejiang province since the government initiative began in late 2013. There has been a spike in such actions in recent weeks.

On Friday, around 20 Catholic clergy staged a rare public demonstration in Wenzhou – a coastal city known as the “Jerusalem of the East” – including Vincent Zhu Weifang, its elderly bishop.

A banner unfurled outside government offices by the group read: “Maintaining religious dignity and opposing the forced removal of crosses”.

Chinese police monitored the two-hour protest but did not break it up, according to UCA News, the Catholic agency.

Zhejiang is home to one of China’s largest Christian congregations with an estimated 300,000 Catholics and one million Protestants split between government-sanctioned and underground “house” churches.

Towering red church crosses – visible for miles around – once dotted the city’s skyline but many of the most prominent been forcibly removed since the campaign began. In some cases, entire churches have been reduced to rubble.

Authorities insist they are attacking illegal building practices not religion. The cross removals appeared to have petered out towards the start of this year.

However, recent months have seen an escalation in removal operations in cities including Wenzhou, Hangzhou and Lishui.

One church leader, whose name is being withheld to protect him from retaliation, said authorities were attempting to transform Christianity “into a tool that serves the party”.

“What they are doing feels like something from the Cultural Revolution era,” he complained, referring to the period in the 1960s when churches and temples were ransacked and destroyed by Chairman Mao’s Red Guards.

Many Christian activists believe president Xi Jinping – who recently warned that religion should be independent from foreign influence – has given at least tacit approval to the removals.

There was outrage in May after online photographs appeared to show a cross on one Zhejiang church going up in flames.

A report in the Global Times, a state-run tabloid, denied the Christian symbol had been intentionally torched.

With frustration building, both Catholic and Protestant leaders from Wenzhou’s official church have become increasingly vocal.

In an open letter earlier this month Catholic officials lamented the removals as “an evil act” that had “caused great resentment and anger among clergy and believers”.

“Removing crosses means destroying believers’ faith as well as destroying love and indulging hatred,” the letter added.

Protestant preachers are encouraging their congregations to peacefully oppose the removals by placing homemade wooden crosses in their homes or on their cars.

“Each time they take a cross down, we will put more up,” the Zhejiang church leader said. “We are even considering making flags and clothes with cross patterns. We will make the cross flourish throughout China.”

The removals have also sparked international condemnation with activists urging Barack Obama to raise the issue with president Xi Jinping, when he makes his first state visit to the United States in September.

Following a congressional hearing last week, Marco Rubio, the Republican presidential candidate, said: “Without question, religious freedom is under assault in China.”

However, such repression “arguably had the unintended consequence of infusing many of these religious adherents with greater vibrancy as evidenced most dramatically by the explosive growth of Christianity in China,” Rubio added.

Additional reporting by Luna Lin

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985