China’s Christians: Persecution by Zoning Regulations

China’s Christians rival in number the members of the Communist Party in China. (Photo: Elizabeth Thomsen / Flickr)

China’s Christians rival in number the members of the Communist Party in China. (Photo: Elizabeth Thomsen / Flickr)

“In another sign of the authorities’ 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,” reports Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times. “Since early spring, the authorities in Zhejiang Province have issued demolition notices to more than 100 churches.” 

Why? Jacobs writes:

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.

Also on June 6, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China reported:

According to a May 2014 New York Times report, an internal Zhejiang government document revealed that the government aimed to regulate “excessive religious sites” and “overly popular” religious activities, but it specified only one religion, Christianity, and one religious symbol, crosses.

Along with that, the document stated that the “growth of Christianity had been ‘too excessive and too haphazard.’”

But, with China trying to act marginally more accountable than in its past, don’t officials need a pretext? Returning to the Times articles, officials say of Zhejiang Christians that “their structures violated zoning regulations.” Authorities “have been largely taking aim at church steeples and their crosses, but in April the authorities tore down [a church that was a] highly visible landmark in Wenzhou, saying the entire structure violated building codes.” To show how false was that pretext, Jacob writes, “The church, which stood along a highway, had been previously cited by the local government as a model project.” Just as bad:

Officials have even made it difficult for Christians to worship underground: “concurrent with the church demolitions, Wenzhou authorities also took measures to force several large unregistered house churches to stop religious gatherings.”

Compounding the problem:

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.