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.