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Why is China tearing down church crosses? Because it’s terrified of religion

6 August 2014

5:12 PM

6 August 2014

5:12 PM

Since the beginning of this year, China has been engaged in a cruel and bizarre campaign against Christians in the south-eastern province of Zhejiang. Its main target is Wenzhou, a city known as ‘China’s Jerusalem’ because a million of its eight million residents are Christian.

Wenzhou’s 2,000 churches display hundreds of crosses that illuminate the skyline (a pattern familiar to any visitor to South Korea, where even the smallest towns sprout neon crosses). Now China wants those crosses taken down, and fast.

According to AP, at the end of July ‘200 congregants rushed to the Longgang Huai En Church in Wenzhou to protect their building – but to no avail. They ended up watching helplessly from the sidelines as police used a crane to tear off the 10-foot-tall cross that topped the building’s steeple.’

Often the Christians fight back. When the cross on the church in Wuxi village was torn off, a member of the congregation used his welding torch to replace it. He was arrested for operating a welding business without a licence. Worshippers at other churches have parked heavy lorries in front of their buildings in order to protect them.

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Such impudence has made authorities in Zheijang even more obsessive in their campaign against crosses – and sometimes the buildings underneath them. A mega-church in the port city of Ningbo received a demolition order after a party official was reportedly appalled by the size of its cross. In almost every case, local authorities cite building regulations. Typically the victims are Protestant congregations authorised by the state.

For many years, China’s most persecuted Christians have been members of underground Protestant ‘house churches’ and Catholics loyal to the Vatican. In 2008, however, there was enough evidence of Beijing’s increased tolerance of unofficial worship for the US State Department to remove China from its human rights blacklist.

So why this clumsy and petty-minded new campaign against the cross? The fundamental explanation is simple. For millennia, China has had a deep-rooted fear of religion — any religion — that grows independently of the state. The clampdown against the Falun Gong sect that began in the late 1990s was not inspired by the group’s quasi-Buddhist teachings, centred around traditional Chinese breathing exercises. What Beijing hated was the fact that the Falun Gong network was spreading uncontrollably via the newly popular internet.

Evangelical Christianity in Zhejiang has also begun to spread uncontrollably. The province itself is unstable: it has grown rich quickly thanks to a demand for cheap manufactured goods that may evaporate. Rapid social change has eroded deference. The Protestants of ‘China’s Jerusalem’ are not — yet — politically opposed to the Communist government. But their faith, like Zhejiang’s economy, is entrepreneurial and excitable. Hence their bravely stroppy defence of their rooftop crosses, whose prominence does indeed have a defiant flavour to it.

In a recent article in the Telegraph, Tom Phillips wrote about ‘breakneck conversion’: some experts believe that, by 2030, there will be nearly 250 million Christians in China, easily outranking the United States. One day, more than 20 per cent of citizens could be followers of Jesus Christ — and, unlike the more easily contained Muslim and Tibetan religious minorities, ethnically Chinese.

That prospect horrifies Beijing, which will do everything in its power to stop it happening. If the experience of Zhejiang is anything to go by, the assault on churches may not be particularly bloodthirsty, but it will be crude, unrelenting — and bureaucratic. That’s not good news for Christians, because bureaucracy is what China does best.

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Show comments
  • AndyB

    Having lived in China for 7 years the government is not anti Christian at all. In Wenzhou the church was told not to build the new church higher than the party building. They did and consequently it was demolished.

  • Dian Atamyanov

    It seems like the Chinese are starting to betray their own cultural heritage.

    • Mr.X

      They culture was already destroyed by atheist communists during cultural revolution.

      • Dian Atamyanov

        Nice to see that Christian communists are playing their part. Not for the first time have Christians tried to destroy Chinese culture, though, as we all remember the Opium Wars.

  • edwina lian

    Well… If I am allowed to comment.. I offered CHINA to Jesus Christ. His Mighty hand is working together with His instruments.. I praised Him who is seated at the right hand of GOD the Eternal Father… With GOD the Eternal Father moved in this area nothing can fight His Will… Amen…

  • Daidragon

    If you were starting the world from scratch you wouldn’t want religion in it. Well done to the chinese for their muscular defence of secularism.

    • Fides_et_Ratio

      Atheist Marxism has killed 70-90 million people in the XX century, and produced the most oppressive totalitarian regimes in recorded human history.

  • Paddy S

    Brilliant article Damian. Don’t know whats better – that Christ will come into lives and help aid the people of China and bring proper Western values or that the communist atheists are scared out of their minds about it.

    • red2black

      More likely there’ll eventually be some sort of compromise.

    • takasar1

      anyone who knows anything about the bloody history of the 3 abrahamic religions would do well to fear and hate them

      • Paddy S

        Given the vicious and violent history of atheistic tyrants (in particular China) you dont have much to talk about.

        • takasar1

          dont worry, when it comes to sheer numbers, you’re a good hundred million in the lead. besides, bhuddist =/= atheist. …

          • Paddy S

            The worst crimes of Christians were Crusades/ Inquisition (max casualties 3,000,000), Jews conquest of Canaan and ancient times (1,500,000). Atheist tyrants in the 20th century – 150,000,000, communism an explicitly atheistic ideology. There are other anti religious ideologies I could add of course.

            • red2black

              Whether someone’s religious or an atheist, their reasons for killing people are inspired and justified by what they believe, which is usually based on either religious or political writings, or both. If you’re having a ‘who’s killed the most’ competition, it may be worth ‘factoring in’ the global population at the time these killings were carried out, just to put things ‘in perspective’.

            • Daidragon

              You seem to have forgotten the catholic supported holocaust against the Jews of Europe.

              • Paddy S

                Utter nonsense. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were saved by the church. And thousands of clergy were murdered by the Nazis. Hitler hated Christianity (jewish origins) and Judaism, and planned to wipe both out.

                • Dian Atamyanov

                  Source?

                • takasar1

                  explains why they fled into almohad spain to escape from the church…

              • Fides_et_Ratio

                If you had a cogent argumentation, you wouldn’t have to lie through your teeth.

            • takasar1

              oh please, you forget the colonization of the americas, the 80/30 years war, the violence caused by the spread of christianity, the roman-persian wars, the various tens of millions who died from the muslim invasions and so on.

              • Paddy S

                Actually the spread of Christianity in Europe and Asia was mostly peaceful. The Thirty Years War had very little to do with religion as can be seen by the participants not all sharing same religion and yet fighting side by side. The Roman Persian wars I know nothing about. I never talked about Islam.

        • Dian Atamyanov

          These “atheistic tyrants” worshiped ideologies as fervently as any religion, and their regimes had so many similarities with religion that it’s ridiculous to even suggest that they were inspired to kill because of their lack of belief in deities.

          • Paddy S

            Thats total weasel words. Christians get blamed for the Inquisiton and witch hunts but when atheists do horrble things they get a pass. Those ideologies were explicitly atheistic and fervour came from belief in them. Marx invoked atheism and wiping out of religion. And in every totalitarian regime of 20th century that communism took over thats what happened. Surprised? Not me….

            • Dian Atamyanov

              Totalitarian regimes didn’t slaughter people, because of their atheism, but because of their attempt to maintain their power. The same goes for churches. It’s just you thinking it’s unfair to lump the faith with the politics and trying to wring out some twisted logic to connect their actions with their atheism. Of course, there were, and in a few places still are, anti-religious campaigns, but they share the same motivation of enforcing dominance.

              However, people like some of those involved in the Crusades did indeed kill for their convictions. Why else would you sell your belongings to the Catholic Church and go “liberate the holy lands”? Now I challenge you to find me an atheist who went out and killed, because he didn’t believe in a given god at the time.

              Going back to totalitarianism, in Stalin’s USSR, the main motivation for slaughtering millions was because they were “enemies of the state”. Yes, he was an atheist, but it was his idea of the ideal state through his version of communism that dictated his actions. His dogmatism killed many more, as it is evident from affirming Lysenko’s miraculous biology as the official scientific theory on genetics and agriculture, disallowing dissent and enforcing it on government policies. This of course naturally lead to massive famines. Now how is that in line with secular values of freethought and liberty?

              As for Marx, he never invoked wiping out religion. He thought of religion as a symptom of a vile world. It was for him “the spirit of a spiritless situation,” and served as consolation for the oppressed. In fact, he and Engels saw many similarities between early Christianity and the message of communism. In that regard, he never aimed to “wipe out” religion, but to improve the life of humanity, and by doing so, religion would naturally lose its reason to exist. It was Lenin that introduced the idea of militant atheistic materialism, which aimed to physically oppose the influence of religion:
              “A Marxist could not make a worse mistake than to think
              that the many millions of people (particularly peasants and artisans)
              who are condemned by modern society to ignorance, illiteracy and
              prejudices can extricate themselves from this ignorance only by
              following the straight line of purely Marxist education.”

              Communism as proposed by Marx is not atheistic, but self-conscious (non-theistic):
              “Atheism[…] has no longer any meaning, for atheism is a negation of God, and
              postulates the existence of man through this negation; but socialism as
              socialism no longer stands in any need of such a mediation. It proceeds
              from the practically and theoretically sensuous consciousness of man
              and of nature as the essence. Socialism is man’s positive self-consciousness.”

              Of course, as dictators go, they would often distort their ideology to serve their own interests and to follow their own line of thinking. Take for example North Korea’s “communist state”, which is about as communist as China. There, you would find none of what Marx was talking about and all of what a theocracy would approve of: a religion based around the leader. It is the antithesis of a communist state, yet it began its existence as one.

              And what of Vietnam, which has its own party sanctioned Buddhist Church? Of course, anyone outside the church is persecuted, but it wouldn’t be totalitarian if it allowed for freedom of religion (a secular value), now would it?

              All in all, it’s not a good point to suggest that atheism can motivate anyone to do anything based on their lack of belief. It is the belief in something that pushes you to act according to whatever it is you hold to be true. This is why atheism and Christianity cannot be compared in the way you suggest. While atheism is simply the lack of a belief in God(s), and ends there, Christianity on the other hand is a package full of beliefs about nearly everything, including a belief in God. For atheism to motivate someone, it has to offer a package of its own, which it does not. Communism, however, does offer beliefs, and therein lies all the difference.

              • Paddy S

                Bullshit – moral relativism at work here. In every single totalitarian state religion of Judeo-Christian variety and others were persecuted by atheists. Again regardless Marx sowed the seed of it and its repeated everywhere atheism has blood on its hand you just dont want to admit it.

                • Dian Atamyanov

                  Just throwing around a bunch of preconceived notions with a whole load of emotion does not an argument make. State your case or don’t waste my time.

              • Mr.X

                Nice cherry-picking of history.
                1) Atheism as a lack of belief is a modern and convenient rendering of the term. Atheism, for the most part, has meant and still means the denial of Gods (i.e., the belief that God doesn’t exist.) This is etymologically correct, it’s correct according to most dictionaries and this is how the general population understand it. This is how the communists understood it too. Once you deny the spiritual and the supernatural, certain inevitable beliefs and worldviews result, like materialism and metaphysical naturalism. So there can be “religions”, belief systems, movement, groups that can be based on atheistic worldviews.

                2) Communism as how it was practiced was based on materialist worldview which denies the spiritual and the supernatural. Atheism was a core part of Soviet ideology. Lenin wrote, in “The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion”, that “dialectical materialism…is absolutely atheistic and positively hostile to all religion”. He also believed that “Atheism is a material and inseparable part of Marxism”. Once the Bolsheviks took power, they began to destroy the influence of the Russian Church not merely by depriving it of political privileges but by closing churches and monasteries and killing priests and bishops. That this was systematic and ideological is evident from reading the words of the communists themselves. Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, who had fought with the Bolsheviks since the
                1905 revolution, led their League of Militant Atheists, and said “it is our duty to destroy every religious world-concept”. Kazan Cathedral, to illustrate the force of their anti-religious spite, was shut down and turned into the
                Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism. Soviet officials heavily promoted scientific atheism. The doctrine was taught in schools, advocated in the media, and emphatically propagandized in books, posters, the arts, during holidays, and with celebrations.

                The Society of Militant Atheists, under Stalin’s orders, issued on May 15th 1932, the “Five Year Plan of Atheism” – by May 1st 1937, such as the “Plan”, “not a single house of prayer shall remain in the territory of the USSR, and the very concept of God must be banished from the Soviet Union as a survival of the Middle Ages and an instrument for the oppression of the working masses.”!

                When people say that “atheism had nothing to do with Stalin” they are wrong.

      • Fides_et_Ratio

        Hate Christianity for what Islam does? Or hate Christianity for what the Inquisition did 500 years ago? Not very logical. On the other hand, atheistic Marxism killed 70-90 million people in the past century, continues killing, and built the most oppressive totalitarian regimes in recorded human history, some of which continue to this day.

        • takasar1

          ‘inquisition’??? lol, you forget the 80 years war, the 30 years war, the conquest of the americas, the systematic destruction of paganism, crusades, the holocaust (kinder, kuche, kirche) and many, many other ‘christian’ wars. if i were to include the other 2, we might be here forever.

          • Fides_et_Ratio

            You think the Americas were only conquered because of religion?
            And the Holocaust? Nazism was pagan.

            The crusades were a defense against Muslim conquest. They only managed to recover a small portion of what had been conquered by Muslims. The North of Africa and Asia Minor were Christian before Islam. Islam conquered 2/3 of the original Christian territory, and Christianity only recovered a tiny portion of it.
            You shoot by the hip. I can’t refute all that you shoot because, as the saying goes, “a fool can ask mores questions and make more attacks in an hour than a wise man can answer in a year”.

            And I repeat: you are forced to dig problems of 500 years ago, while the unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe of atheistic Marxism happened in the XX century, and continues today.

            • takasar1

              is that so?? you think marxism killed millions because it was according to its athiest roots ? funny, most historians believe it was due to failed economic policies. your hypocrisy is stunning, christians can be motivated by treasure, but any errors athiests make has to be down to their ideological beliefs….
              nazism, pagan?? explains why they were influenced by christians, run by christians, tried to bridge the gap between catholicism and prostestants and even developed sections for christianity in their dogma (‘positive christianity’).

              interesting…its always funny when the abrahamic religions try and compare their respective bloodthirst and past mistakes. it all turns into a blame game. let me ask you, how did christianity spread from the mid-east to europe and north africa? ‘reclaim christian land’. so i’m guessing the jews should talk to the pope when they wish to reclaim their land. and the pagans too, right?

              i shoot from the hip because i can fall asleep at night just fine, without having to scare myself into believing in religion. you can’t answer them. full stop. humans have been around for tens of thousands of years, 2 millennia is but a drop in the bucket. your own hypocrisy makes you blind.

              • Fides_et_Ratio

                > you think marxism killed millions because it was according to its athiest roots?

                Of course. Marxism is based on atheistic materialism. The materialistic dialectic of violence. Marx and Lenin made it clear that atheism was an inseparable part of Marxism. They hated religion and worked hard to eliminate it.

                > funny, most historians believe it was due to failed economic policies.

                The Gulag archipelago made a large contribution to the death toll. Besides, the failed economic policies were a direct consequence of atheistic Marxism.

                > your hypocrisy is stunning, christians can be motivated by treasure, but any errors athiests make has to be down to their ideological beliefs….

                Now that was utter straw man. I am not counting all crimes of atheists, I am only counting crimes caused by atheistic ideologies. If a common criminal kills a man in a robbery, and the criminal happens to be atheist, I don’t count it.

                > nazism, pagan??
                > explains why they were influenced by christians, run by christians

                Nazism despised Christianity as weak and naive. Nazism is a misapplication of Nietzschean ideas and used German paganism for symbolism. It was highly hostile to Catholicism because the Church opposed eugenics. It partly supported a visibly counterfeit pseudo-Christianity (that rejected more than half of the Bible, denied that Jesus was Jew, said Hitler was a new Messiah, etc.), emptied of its moral values, in an attempt to placate Christians.

                > interesting…its always funny when the abrahamic religions try and compare their respective bloodthirst and past mistakes. it all turns into a blame game.

                So the basic principle of “don’t accuse a man for something he is not guilty of” becomes “blame game”.

                > let me ask you, how did christianity spread from the mid-east to europe and north africa?

                If you are making an accusation then state it and provide solid evidence.

                > ‘reclaim christian land’. so i’m guessing the jews should talk to the pope when they wish to reclaim their land. and the pagans too, right?

                What, do you think the Pope should be the one-stop solution for all land disputes? What kind of argument is that? The fact is that Muslims took 2/3 of Christian land, continued to advance, and the christian Pope organized efforts stop the advance and reclaim lost land, but only managed to recover a tiny portion of it. The whole affair was a huge Islamic victory.

                > i shoot from the hip

                So you admit to shooting from the hip, that is, making careless accusations.

  • LaurenceBoyce

    “. . . because a million of its eight million residents are Christian.”

    So the other seven million residents should have to put up with tacky neon crosses otherwise it’s persecution.

  • MC73

    Beijing announced today that it will create a ‘Chinese Christian theology’ to bring Christianity in line with ‘Chinese culture and values’, ie doing what the CCP says.

    • LaurenceBoyce

      You mean a bit like the established church that we have? So creepy . . .

  • zanzamander

    What business is it of Christians to convert these Chinese in the first place?

  • zanzamander

    Christians have no business in China, neither does Islam, for that matter. China has its old traditions, religions and cultures that are now in danger of being swiped away by large scale proselytisation into what are essentially intolerant and monotheist belief system that emerged from lands and cultures thousands of miles away in deserts of Middle East.

    Sean Thomas in The Telegraph writes in his excellent article on the destruction of another ancient religion and peoples, the Yezidis, this time at the hands of Isis. Apart from the method of coercion, how is this different from the decimation of the ancient Chinese faiths and cultures at the hands of rampant Christians?

    What is it about Christianity and Islam that they just cannot leave others alone?

  • Tony_E

    China’s problem is simply one of numbers. It’s rulers are afraid of anything they cannot control, because once it has been effectively demonstrated that they have lost control of one section of the population then others will rise up.

    Quite bluntly, the communist party fears Mussolini’s fate. 1.5 Billion people, lining up to hang them from the nearest lamp post with piano wire. If they were to ever think in large enough numbers that they could overthrow the party, the force of revolution would be unstoppable.

    • AndyB

      I disagree, the Chinese government are facing the Islamic problem and are sorting it how the UK should, death penalty. The Church in the city I live caught fire some months ago and the Chinese government stepped in to rebuild it. In the UK the church would rely on charity or change it to a mosque.

  • andy_gill

    Until they can figure out a way to blame Israel, you can be sure the liberal-left won’t say a word.

  • Julie

    It is axiomatic that Christianity contains an appeal to personal conscience against an expedient ‘sanhedrin’; and combined with popular, unruly pilgrimages to Chinese Marian shrines, brings a perceived freedom to take ‘a step nearer to the people of God’.

    • The Masked Marvel

      Indeed, regimes very nervous when people start believing that there’s something bigger and more important than The State.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Independent centres of power are dangerous to the regime. ‘Twas ever thus. If the Evangelical strain of Christianity ends up being responsible for the downfall of Communist Party rule, the BBC will go mental.

    • David Hussell

      Deliciously wry comment – nice one !

  • altsegel

    A joy to read Damian Thompson and as so often, oddly cheering.

  • Colonel Mustard

    You’ve missed another reason this is happening in Zhejiang. Look up Hui minorities and the tension being caused by what might be described as “appeasement”…

    • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

      I think that’s why they posted this article.

    • Makroon

      The Hui are well-integrated and peaceable, unlike the Uighur crazies stirred up by Turkish and US meddling.

      • Colonel Mustard

        You need to find another source of news. There have been violent clashes involving Hui unrest.

        • takasar1

          the kettle calling the pot black..

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    It undermines the integrity of a nation when a large proportion of the population has or even appears to have loyalties to authorities outside that nation.or to ideology superceding it.

    I am not specifically referring to China.

    • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

      Because the state is the nation and the nation is the state. “I am the nation” the state might say. Or is it?

      • Rhoda Klapp8

        It is the reason that Catholics were restricted in law for centuries. External loyalties. I don’t propose a solution but it is worth pointing out that there is a real threat to the state, any state including democracies.. The example I had in mind was closer to home in time, of course. Well, two examples if you define loyalty to the EU as being in conflict with national interest.

        • Laurence England

          Heaven is a foreign nation to Britain.
          For evidence see our abortion laws etc

          • red2black

            UK law does not force anyone to have an abortion, nor does it force anyone not to have an abortion.

            • Fides_et_Ratio

              Replace “abortion” with “murder” and you will see how fallacious is your argument.

      • Makroon

        Rhoda is correct. Contrary to the blog-post, China has been encouraging of religion in recent years, and has made efforts to reach an understanding with the pope.
        But it won’t abide the US sponsored “political evangelicals”, so common in Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Japan, nor Muslims owing allegiance to “the caliphate”, and not even the Tibetan dissidents sheltering in India.

    • Makroon

      I have no doubt that if I erected a 10ft neon cross on my house, the local council enforcers would be round, to tear it down in no time at all. They certainly feel threatened by my eccentric neighbour’s attempts at a Christmas light display.

      • red2black

        Why on Earth would you want to do that?

    • Fides_et_Ratio

      Freedom of religion, conscience and expression is a fundamental human right.

  • andagain

    As ways of persecuting a religion go, taking the cross off a church rooftop seems pretty ineffective…

    • red2black

      Nicking the lead is popular as well, but I don’t think persecution is the motivation.

    • Makroon

      Think positively.
      It will reduce energy consumption and reduce the need for “devil’s work” coal-fired power stations.

  • saffrin

    Good luck with that.
    Going by any instruction manual for any Chinese product I have ever bought, the translation of the bible into Chinese will no doubt see many an interesting interpretation

    • mattghg

      One of the stupider comments ever seen on these boards.

      • saffrin

        Too much for you to understand matt.
        Give it time.

        • red2black

          “We’ve got the Chinese on the line, Mr President…”
          “Yeah? …Tell ’em I’ll have Chicken with Green Peppers and Black Bean Sauce… with Boiled Rice.” (tee hee)

    • altsegel

      At least they are trying to read it instead of struggling on in ignorance – standard practice with the western male

      • saffrin

        Best you not buy any Chinese flat-pack, you sound confused enough already.

  • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

    Christians standing up and fighting back…now there’s an idea.

    • David Hussell

      It has much to commend it !

    • takasar1

      and getting squashed horribly by a military designed to keep them in check…no thanks

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