In another sign of efforts to contain one of China’s fastest-growing religions, a government demolition campaign against public symbols of the Christian faith has toppled crosses at two more churches in the coastal province of Zhejiang, according to residents there.
On Monday, public security officials in the city of Wenzhou used a crane and blowtorch to cut loose the red, 10-foot crucifix that had adorned the Longgang Township Gratitude Church, witnesses said. Unlike in previous confrontations between the police and parishioners that have unfolded in recent months, the congregants did not offer resistance.
“We didn’t want to get in a fight with them, but obviously what they did was illegal,” said Qu Linuo, a pastor from a nearby church, who was among the crowd of believers who held an overnight vigil before the police arrived.
On Friday, congregants at the Wenling Church in the city of Taizhou faced off with as many as 4,000 police officers but ultimately failed to prevent the removal of two crosses from atop their building. One congregant said as many as 40 people were detained during the standoff.
Since early spring, the authorities in Zhejiang province have issued demolition notices to more than 100 churches, saying their structures violated zoning regulations. Most of the targeted churches are state-approved, in contrast to so-called underground congregations that are frequently singled out by the authorities.
Officials have been largely taking aim at church steeples and their crosses, but in April, the authorities tore down the Sanjiang Church, a highly visible landmark in Wenzhou, saying the entire structure violated building codes. The church had been previously cited by the local government as a model project.
Church leaders and analysts say the battle in Zhejiang, one of China’s wealthiest provinces, highlights the Chinese leadership’s discomfort with the growing allure of Christianity, whose adherents are said to rival in number the 86 million members of the Communist Party.
The crackdown on Christianity in Zhejiang also coincides with a nationwide campaign that has been directed at legal rights defenders, pro-democracy advocates and liberal online commentators.
Although the government has cited zoning rules in its fight against the churches, a provincial policy paper suggests that there may be other reasons, advising officials to use the zoning language in an effort to avoid international scrutiny.
Local officials could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Elsewhere in Zhejiang, one of China’s oldest Catholic churches, built in the 19th century by French missionaries in the coastal city of Ningbo, was gutted early Monday by a fire that reportedly began at the altar, according to state news media. There incident was likely to heighten the belief among Christians that they are under siege.
At the Wenling Church in Taizhou, congregants said hundreds of Christians sang hymns at daybreak on Friday as the riot police surrounded the church. In a phone interview, congregant Lemon Huang said the show of force was overwhelming and unnecessary. “Some wore police uniforms, with helmets and shields, some were plainclothes police and some wore red armbands – just like the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution,” Mr. Huang said.
More news on China
Police in China remove church’s cross amid crackdown
Hundreds of police took down a church’s cross in eastern China early Monday amid a crackdown on church buildings in a coastal region where thousands of people are embracing Christianity.
Evangelist Qu Linuo, who belongs to another church, said hundreds of police showed up Monday at the Longgang Huai En Church in the city of Wenzhou and used a crane to remove the cross from its steeple. Qu said he and about 200 others had flocked to the church a few hours earlier to protect the church but peacefully made way for the police.
China forbids civil servants, students from fasting in Ramadan in Muslim region of Xinjiang
Students and civil servants in China’s Muslim northwest, where Beijing is enforcing a security crackdown following deadly unrest, have been ordered to avoid taking part in traditional fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Statements posted in the past several days on websites of schools, government agencies and local party organizations in the Xinjiang region said the ban was aimed at protecting students’ wellbeing and preventing use of schools and government offices to promote religion. Statements on the websites of local party organizations said members of the officially atheist ruling party also should avoid fasting.
“No teacher can participate in religious activities, instil religious thoughts in students or coerce students into religious activities,” said a statement on the website of the No. 3 Grade School in Ruoqiang County in Xinjiang.
Similar bans have been imposed in the past on fasting for Ramadan, which began at sundown Saturday. But this year is unusually sensitive because Xinjiang is under tight security following attacks that the government blames on Muslim extremists with foreign terrorist ties.
Violence has escalated in recent years in Xinjiang. The ruling party blames violent extremists that it says want independence, while members of the region’s Uighur ethnic group complain that discrimination and restrictions on religion, such as a ban on taking children to mosques, are fueling anger at the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
An attack on May 22 in the regional capital of Urumqi by four people who threw bombs in a vegetable market killed 43 people, including the attackers. On June 22, police in Kashgar in the far west said they killed 13 assailants who drove into a police building and set off explosives, injuring three officers. Authorities have blamed two other attacks at train stations in Urumqi and in China’s southwest on Muslim extremists.
The government responded with a crackdown that resulted in more than 380 arrests in one month and public rallies to announce sentences.
The ruling party is wary of religious activities it worries might serve as a rallying point for opposition to one-party rule. Controls on worship are especially sensitive in Xinjiang and in neighbouring Tibet, where religious faith plays a large role in local cultures.
On Tuesday, authorities in some communities in Xinjiang held celebrations of the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party and served food to test whether Muslim guests were fasting, according to Dilxat Raxit, spokesman in Germany for the rights group World Uyghur Congress.
“This will lead to more conflicts if China uses coercive measures to rule and to challenge Uighur beliefs,” said Dilxat Raxit in an email.
The ruling party says religion and education should be kept separate
“Students shall not participate in religious activities; they shall not study scripts or read poems at script and choir classes; they shall not wear any religious emblems; and no parent or others can force students to have religious beliefs or partake in religious activities,” said the statement on the website of the grade school in Ruoqiang County.
A news portal run by the government of Yili in the northern reaches of Xinjiang said fasting is detrimental to the physical wellbeing of young students, who should eat regularly.
In the city of Bole, retired teachers from the Wutubulage Middle School were called in to stand guard at mosques and prevent students from entering, according to a statement on the municipal party committee website.
Also in Bole, the Bozhou University of Radio and Television said on its website it held a meeting with working and retired minority teachers on the first day of the Ramadan to remind them of the fasting ban.
The forestry bureau in Xinjiang’s Zhaosu county held an event the day before Ramadan at which party cadres signed a pledge they and their relatives would “firmly resist fasting,” according to a statement on the website of the local party committee.
The Moyu Weather Bureau in the Hotan area said on its website that Muslim employees, both active and retired, were required to sign a letter promising not to fast.
The commercial bureau for Turpan, an oasis town in the Taklamakan Desert, said in a statement that civil servants are “strictly forbidden” to fast or perform the Salat prayer ritual in a mosque.
Story & Pictures Reported by & Exclusive to The Globe and Mail
Also Credit to – (LEMON HUANG/NYT)
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