Provincial and municipal governments are intensifying purges against churches and temples to demonstrate the superiors their achievements in suppressing religion.
by Cai Congxin
Since September last year, the central United Front Work Department (UFWD) has been executing its first-ever nationwide supervision program, initiated by the CCP’s Central Committee, to check on the implementation of religious policies in provinces and municipalities across China.
During the first stage of the initiative, called “self-inspection and correction,” local authorities were ordered to evaluate the anti-religious measures being implemented under their jurisdiction and report back to the UFWD. The second stage was launched on October 25, with teams of central government officials dispatched across the country to examine the results of “self-inspection” and identify the issues that need changes for future religious policies. Since then, to please the central government superiors, provincial and municipal authorities have been subjecting religious venues and believers to systematic, organized persecution.
In preparation for a new round of visits by central government inspection teams, planned for this year, local authorities are now stepping up their efforts in cracking down on places of worship.
According to a document, entitled The Plan to Welcome Central Religious Return Inspections, issued by a locality in the central province of Hubei in April, preparatory work ahead of visits has been launched by intensifying crackdowns on religious venues, based on the feedback from the provincial committee’s earlier inspection. All places of worship that previously “slipped through the net” and avoided investigations must be investigated and shut down, the edict demands. The work also includes intensified crackdowns on private Christian meeting venues, eradication of religion from schools and universities, suppression of foreign Christian “infiltration” and unofficial religious publications.
Awaiting the central inspection teams, similar suppression activities have been implemented across the province. Two house church meeting venues in Jiang’an district of Wuhan city were forcibly shut down on April 14, authorities looting their assets. Another house church in the area was also raided and closed, after the police savagely dismantled the cross and confiscated the donation box, as well as over 100 Bibles and hymnbooks.
In Huangshi, a prefecture-level city in the southeastern part of Hubei, multiple Buddhist temples have been sealed off and statues removed, as part of this operation to welcome central inspections, leaving the temples’ owners with nowhere to go.
“The policies are strict now. It isn’t just your temple that is being shut down; more than a dozen of them have been shut down in the entire development zone,” a government official said while shutting down Dongshan Temple in Huangshi’s Jinhai Development Zone.
On June 6, a dozen village officials came to the Temple and closed it down, claiming that it was unlicensed.
“I paid over 5,000 RMB (about $ 750) to the China Buddhist Association to get a license. I even have the receipt. How can you seal off the temple?” the temple’s owner argued vigorously.
He also showed a document, proving that the management of the temple had been handed over to him. To no avail – the officials still ordered to remove the Bodhisattva statue and block the entrance to the temple.
On May 10, nearly twenty officials from Huangshi Religious Affairs Bureau and Office of Ethnic and Religious Affairs came to Zhujia Temple in the city and ordered the owner to close down the temple and remove the Buddhist statues inside it. On May 15, the temple was sealed off, after the officials confiscated from the owner the keys to it.
The owner repeatedly asked for the keys, but unsuccessfully. “The government said that the temple is small, unlicensed. It wasn’t that we didn’t apply for a license. We wrote an application when the temple was built, but the government wouldn’t process it,” the owner explained. “The CCP says there is religious freedom but doesn’t allow people to believe in Buddhism. There is no freedom at all!”
Multiple other temples in Huangshi – Guanyin Temple and Zhenru Temple; Xin county’s Shiti Temple, Baiyi Temple, and Jinfo Temple; Yangxin county’s Guanyu Temple and Guiyuan Temple – have also been subjected to varying degrees of persecution.