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Persecuting Christians in China
China's Churches Are Under Siege

While China’s treatment of Tibetan Buddhists and Muslims in Xinjiang often gets a lot of press, the plight of the country’s Christians is often overlooked. The persecution is real, and it is growing. Local officials recently razed a large Protestant church on the country’s south-central coast. CNN reports:

Local officials responsible for the demolition say the church was an illegal structure that was four times the permitted structure size. But Christian groups are concerned that the demolition signals an official campaign against religious organizations.

The Sanjiang Church took 12 years and 30 million yuan ($4.7 million) to build, reports Chinese media. Its soaring spires were a symbol of worship in a city that is fifteen percent Christian.

The church’s demolition on Monday was preceded by a month-long standoff between supporters of the church and local authorities, with supporters occupying the church to protest its destruction.

The church was originally a government-approved project under the official “Three-Self Patriotic Movement,” a state-sanctioned Protestant church. Last September it was lauded by the local government as a model engineering project.

Only two days before, the local government defaced Catholics statues in the same city:

Around 50 government workers sealed off Wenzhou’s Longgang Hill, a site of Catholic pilgrimage, […] and used bricks to “hide” statues portraying moments from the Passion of Christ.

Statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, each weighing up to five tons, were “bricked around to hide them from public view” while cranes were used to remove other holy statues and tablets from the park. “All other religious decoration was demolished,” according to UCA News, a news agency covering Catholic issues in Asia.

“About 100 Catholics who came to watch the removals were blocked at the entrance,” said one witness, who asked not to be named because of “security concerns.” “Some who managed to sneak in sang hymns and prayed while watching. Some could not hold back their tears.”

“The authorities’ behaviour is reminiscent of the smashing of church property during the Cultural Revolution,” another member of the city’s Catholic community told UCA News’ Chinese-language service.

Most Christians in China are Protestant, with practitioners making up 4.3 percent of the country’s population, according to a Pew survey. All Christians, at just over 67 million people, make up 5 percent of the population. Some observers predict China will be home to the world’s biggest population of Christians by 2030.

While the government fears organized religion in general, it views Christianity as uniquely threatening. As the BBC explains, “Deep in the party’s narrative is a view of Christianity as a tool of Western imperialism, and even recently a government directive warned university campuses to be on their guard against the use of religion to infiltrate, Westernise, and divide China.” As the Christian population continues to grow, we will likely see further crackdowns.

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  • Jim__L

    So, no reference to the Tai Ping rebellion?

    (Seriously, a little bit of heresy-scourging could have saved a world of hurt, back then.)

    I’m a little surprised that the Chinese don’t try to make Lutheranism the state church, what with its strong sense of going along with government.

  • Government Drone

    Jim_L: “I’m a little surprised that the Chinese don’t try to make Lutheranism the state church, what with its strong sense of going along with government.”
    Between the official “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” & the official “Catholic” organization, the government has indeed been trying to make a good, safe, state-approved Church. But it seems that both these set-ups often become cover for the “real” underground churches.

    • Jim__L

      What blows me away is the fact that Rome and Beijing were recently (and may still be) re-enacting the Investiture Controversy, over whether the gov’t or the papacy gets to appoint bishops.

      I think the resolution back then was that the gov’t gives the bishop his staff, and Rome gives him his stole… not sure if that works today, but it might be worth a try.

      • Government Drone

        I think one factor in the original Investiture issue was that the local emperor/king/prince would give the bishop a fief that was technically not a Church property, but some secular holding; this would provide an income for the maintenance of the diocese. Should said bishop leave office, would the property revert back to the local government or would it be part of the Church? And with a lot of clergy closely involved in European governments of the Middle Ages (as the most reliable source of clerks & lawyers), it was often quite prudent for the Church to discuss possible new bishops with the local prince.

        This occurred even in the United States; the first US bishop (appointed 1784) was a matter that the Vatican discussed with an American diplomat. Later on, after 1788 or so, when the present Constitution came into effect, the Federal government said this was not a matter in its jurisdiction & told the Vatican to discuss the matter with the various State(s) where the diocese was located. At this time, there was only 1 Catholic see in the states, Baltimore, & probably the prospect of getting all 13 states to agree on the same person as Bishop was something that even Vatican diplomats felt to be too challenging, & after that Rome simply appointed bishops & created sees without any consultation with US civil authorities.

        America was quite the exception till fairly recent times; well into the 20th century the Vatican negotiated new Concordats (the names of these church-state agreements over their respective jurisdictions) with various countries, & for all I know there may still be some in force.

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