Christians in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province were seen making dozens of crosses to be passed out and worn among fellow believers after the local government removed over 1,000 crosses from church exteriors in a year-long “clean-up movement”.
Wenzhou, known as “China’s Jerusalem”, is home to the country’s largest Christian community.
Photos showing a group of locals creating small crosses and painting them red were posted to Weibo, China’s popular Twitter-like platform, along with a message urging Christian faithful in Zhejiang to hang them up at home and wear them.
Father Chen Kaihua of the Kunming diocese in Yunnan province soon after posted a message to Weibo calling on church-goers across the country to join in the “safe and legal non-violent disobedience movement”, according to Hong Kong Free Press, adding that “Tomorrow you will see crosses everywhere in Zhejiang”.
The protest comes amid a government campaign that has seen around 1,200 church crosses removed in Zhejiang since 2014, according to the online Christian newspaper Gospel Harold. Authorities have also threatened to demolish churches in what’s considered a move to curb the spread of Christianity in China.
“The government has always been suspicious about religions — it tightly controls religious beliefs and expressions and Chinese people can only believe in five official religious. But it’s important to point out that many of the churches with crosses removed by the government are official churches recognized by the government,” Maya Wang, a researcher with the Human Rights Watch, said in the HKFP report.
A Pew report from 2010 estimated that there were around 23 million members of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China’s officially sanctioned Protestant church which functions under Communist Party oversight.
“The fact that these churches are now under renewed official scrutiny is a sign that authorities’ already-low tolerance for religious activities has fallen to a new low under President Xi,” Wang said.
A picture circulating online in May shows smoke rising from a cross at the Huzhen Church in Lishui city as it was being removed. Officials later denied that they set fire to the cross, saying that it began burning on its own.
Authorities in Wenzhou, however, insist that they are merely “relocating” crosses and demolishing dangerous buildings as part of a “three revise and one demolition” campaign to beautify the city.
“Generally speaking, the church staff and people [religious faithful] are very supportive,” an official from the ethic and religious affairs bureau in Rui’an told the Global Times. “We talked with some people who were not cooperating with the removal in a gentle way.”
[Images: Weibo via HKFP]