On February 8, the police “discovered” that the megachurch liquidated in 2019 continues to exist clandestinely.
by Wang Zhipeng
Beijing Shouwang Church (守望教会) refuses to die. One of the most famous house churches in China, the CCP believed it had put an end to its glorious story in 2019, when it had declared the church illegal and “liquidated” it.
However, on February 8, 2023, the Haidian District police raided a rented venue where members of the Beijing Shouwang Church were gathering—illegally, from the point of view of the CCP.
The police took the names of all these presents, and detained the pastor, Zhang Xiaofeng, informing his wife on February 9 that he will remain in administrative detention for ten days—to start with.
Shouwang Church, whose name comes from a Chinese verb meaning “to watch,” had been founded in 1993 and had grown to become the epitome of the new “megachurches” in China, i.e. urban churches with thousands of members. Until 2011, Shouwang met twice a week and operated forty Bible study groups. It was regarded by many as the leading house church in the entire country.
In 2004, Shouwang was raided by the police and its leader, Pastor Jin Tianming, was told he should join the government-controlled Three-Self Church. He refused, and the church was raided again in 2005, but continued to operate.
The authorities then started pressuring the property owner who rented the premises where Shouwang gathered to cancel the lease, but the church had paid the rental in advance up to December 2009 and he did not want to lose his money. Finally, when the landlord was about to evict them, in October 2009 Shouwang elders announced that they would start conducting outdoor services on November 1 in Beijing’s Haidian Park. That day, the police locked the gates of the park but the devotees held their service on the sidewalk outside. That the snow started to fall was interpreted as a sign of divine protection.
From November 2009 to March 2019, Shouwang’s peaceful outdoor gatherings were regularly disturbed by the police with loudspeakers, and had to move from one location to another. In 2011, the police started preventing several members of Shouwang from leaving their homes on Sunday. Others were arrested. Some escaped abroad.
But Shouwang continued its activities. In March 2019, the CCP decided it was time for a final solution. The police prevented Shouwang’s last open door gathering from taking place, took some thirty members to a nearby school for questioning, and informed them that Shouwang no longer existed. On March 23, 2019, Shouwang was formally liquidated.
Reduced in numbers as it may be, however, Shouwang refuses to die and continues to operate clandestinely. The believers understand that Shouwang is no longer important for the number of its believers—only a few dozen remain—but as a symbol of resistance and refusal of being controlled by the government through the Three-Self Church.