Chinese authorities have demolished more than 10 church buildings and removed hundreds of crosses from churches in Zhejiang province, home to the largest Protestant population in China, since the start of the year. Around 360 constructions have been affected.
Officials maintain the removals and demolitions are part of the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign targeting all illegal buildings, but religious rights advocates call it a clampdown on religion.
The campaign has resulted in many confrontations in Zhejiang province. Below is a footage released by Radio Free Asia showing a crowd push back against authorities attempting to remove a church's cross in Yueqing, Wenzhou city in June:
But if photos on social media are any evidence, Christians are also protesting what they call persecution in creative ways, such as hair styled into the shape of a cross and T-shirts calling for the demolition campaign's end.
China's Christian population is estimated to reach around 160 million in 2025 and become the world's largest Christian population. The country is officially atheist and while it recognizes Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism, the rapid growth of Christianity appears to be making at least some members of the Chinese Communist Party uncomfortable. Feng Zhili, the chairman of Zhejiang's ethnic and religious affairs committee, has said Christianity's quick rise is “too excessive and too haphazard.”
The most symbolic move came in April with the demolition of Sanjiang Church, registered under the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement which forms part of the only state-sanctioned Protestant church. The government said that the church in Yongjia county was an illegal construction.
At the time, the church's Pastor Yang Mushi urged Chinese Christians to build the churches in their heart (via Chinese Church Voices):
Throughout church history, pressure from the outside has only made the gospel spread more and more. This is because the gospel is not contained in a visible structure. Tears may be in our eyes today, but we can also see a greater revival coming. What we see is not the end, but a new road leading to a new door.
When it comes to our faith, the word jiaohui (church, congregation, fellowship) is not the same as jiaotang (church building). It may be possible to deal violently with a jiaotang, but not with the jiaohui. Christians shouldn’t be so sad. Maybe this is a good time to reflect and wonder if we have put too much focus on church buildings. With this jiaotang now destroyed, we should focus our efforts on building the jiaohui.
On Twitter, @milpitas95035 described other peaceful ways Christians are protesting the religious crackdown:
— 郭宝胜 (@milpitas95035) July 15, 2014
Taking on religious persecution tied to the demolition of churches and crosses, Christians in Wenzhou city started wearing T-shirt inscribed with messages and staging street protests and assemblies against forced demolitions.
— 郭宝胜 (@milpitas95035) July 15, 2014
Hairstyle with a cross – a form of protest against forced demolitions. @YaxueCao In Zhejiang, protest against cross removal.
On Twitter-like Sina Weibo, Yongling Christian Church described various responses to the demolition campaign:
Basically, there are four kinds of reactions: 1. Self-demolition, they work for the government and act like Judas. 2. Sign the agreement and let the government demolish the building. They kneel to power, they surrender; 3. Defend the churches until the last moment of forced demolition. They guard the baseline of their faith, they are the faithful ones; 4. Resist the demolitions by all means. They choose to protect the Cross rather than the Church building, they are the martyrs. The demolition is like a mirror, reflecting the nature of people, and there is no where for you to hide. Glory to God.
User “A flower on the river” warned that religious persecution would not end well for China:
The history tells us that when there is political instability, the churches would be torn down. Such actions cannot stop people from believing in Christianity, it will just spread hatred.