The East China province of Zhejiang is home to the city of Wenzhou, known as the “Jerusalem of China” for the large numbers of Christians who live there. It’s also the area where local officials have launched a crackdown on Christians, taking down crosses from the tops of churches or even demolishing the churches themselves. As unrest over these measures continues, the Chinese government says it is removing crosses for “safety and beauty” reasons. The Guardian reports:
An official from Zhejiang’s ethnic and religious affairs bureau told the state-run Global Times newspaper the government had “merely relocated the crosses out of safety concerns”.
“Generally speaking, the church staff and people are very supportive [of the removals],” the official added.
… So that’s all right, then.
In fact, Chinese Christians are not happy about the removals—the Guardian reported on street protests against them only last Friday. And when you look at the growth of Christianity in the country, you can see why officials are so uneasy about it. The article estimates that there are now more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party. Chinese officials are trying increasingly desperate measures in their crackdown:
The “anti-church” campaign took an unusual turn this week after claims that officials had deployed groups of incense-burning Buddhist monks to “provoke” Christians who were trying to defend their cross.
“We are Protestant Christians, so by sending monks to chant sutras they were trying to get us riled up,” a member of one Zhejiang church told Radio Free Asia, a US-funded news website.
The Christian added: “They were trying to make us angry so that we would retaliate against them. They think that anyone who opposes the government is a traitor, or someone trying to overturn the Communist party.”
Communists in China increasingly realize that the war against religion as such is a losing proposition, and are now looking to support “indigenous” Chinese religions and traditions—Confucianism, Buddhism, Chinese folk religions—against both Christianity and Islam, seen as dangerous imports with potentially destabilizing effects, and “new religions” like the cult of Falun Gong.
This turmoil over religion is one more sign that the cultural changes sweeping through post-Mao China are as dramatic and far reaching as the economic changes. Nobody, not even the Chinese government, knows where this great nation is headed or what lies before it.