The Chinese government’s crackdown on Christians for building illegal churches has gone far beyond the widely publicized demolition of Sanjiang Church in April. And reports in Chinese media indicate city officials have been given a quota for more churches they must destroy next month.
International Christian Concern’s regional manager for Southeast Asia, Sooyoung Kim, knew of at least 64 churches partially or completely torn down already, including Sanjiang Church. Many were in the city of Wenzhou. Kim said officials also ordered 85 house churches to stop gathering.
Officials’ most recent target was Xiaying Holy Love church in the city of Ningbo. A congregant who remained anonymous told The Telegraph that government officials ordered the removal of the building’s cross on May 19: “They told us the cross was too shiny, too tall, and too big.” When they refused, the official said the entire building would be torn down.
Christians now fear a wider crackdown, possibly even nationwide, according to The Telegraph. According to ICC, media reports indicated Wenzhou had met its quota for demolition last month, but YueQing city needs to tear down 50,000 square meters of “illegal construction” in June. Kim said the article did not specify how much of that space would come from churches.
Government officials denied waging a campaign against Christians, claiming churches weren’t the only illegal constructions destroyed for the purposes of urban development and beautification.
But it is clear some officials were displeased by the spread of Christianity in the region. The Telegraph reported earlier this year that the head of Zhejiang’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee said Christianity’s growth was “too excessive and too haphazard.”
Because well-documented, legal churches have been told to take down their crosses and many illegal, non-church buildings remain unaffected, Kim said Christians in Zhejiang feel targeted. A contact in China told ICC, “The Zhejiang government has selectively enforced the law on only church buildings. Other ‘illegal’ structures did not receive demolition orders.”
In the case of Sanjiang Church, Christians also felt betrayed. Province officials began complete demolition of the 160-foot tall church on April 28, after agreeing to tear down only parts of it and leave the cross intact. Before that agreement, Sanjiang Church congregants drew international attention by protesting around the clock for weeks, camping out, and even forming a human shield.
The Chinese government only sanctions “Three-Self” movement churches and retains control over them. Because of that, many Christians worship in unregistered house churches instead.
Christians in Anhui province are worried by recent government moves to assert control over house churches. China Aid said on May 27 that local authorities ordered house churches to register.
“Trouble will come after the information of the persons in charge is registered,” one Christian told China Aid. “In the future, they will call up the leaders whether there are issues of not. They will call you saying there’s a problem with your sanitation or fire safety measures. They will say you don’t pass the standards. In short, they will make it a headache for you and will require you to have an annual inspection and to pay fees.”