The Gate of Heaven on the Seven Sorrows Mountain was replaced with a building in traditional Chinese style, as part of the CCP’s religion “sinicization” campaign.
by Zhang Feng
The Dongergou Parish in the Diocese of Taiyuan is one of the oldest Catholic communities in the northern province of Shanxi. In July 2018, the government prohibited the use of the parish church, built at the end of the 19th century, claiming that it had become “dangerous” to use. In October, the Shrine of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows – a famous pilgrimage sites atop the Seven Sorrows Mountain in Dongergou – was destroyed on the grounds that “it had too many crosses and statues.”
The authorities continued persecuting the Diocese of Taiyuan in 2019. On August 26, the Yaocun town government demanded the diocese to demolish the Gate of Heaven (Shangtianzhimen, 上天之門) – another popular pilgrimage site on the Seven Sorrows Mountain. Claiming that it was “illegally occupying land,” officials threatened to send personnel to destroy the pilgrimage site if the diocese doesn’t accomplish the task in five days.
The diocese bishop managed to postpone the demolition after negotiations with relevant government institutions. On September 11, more than one hundred local Catholics braved the rain to climb the mountain on their knees, praying for the Gate of Heaven to be saved.
Despite all attempts to preserve the pilgrimage site, the Yaocun town government issued an order on October 18, demanding to seal the Seven Sorrows Mountain for “renovation and rectification” and prohibited anyone from entering the area without permission.
Two days later, scaffolding was constructed around the Gate of Heaven, and on October 26, the rectification started by removing its statues. Subsequently, the top two floors have been taken down, and the imposing construction has been transformed into a Chinese-style building.
According to a local believer, the decision to rectify the Gate of Heaven was taken after a visit by a central government supervision team that ordered the local authorities to replace it with a new building featuring Chinese architectural characteristics. The believer added that during the overhaul, the town government demanded to block the mobile reception throughout the entire area to prevent information leaks. SWAT and public security officers guarded each intersection leading to the Gate of Heaven 24/7, preventing anyone from reaching it.
Even construction workers were not allowed to enter and leave without permission: they could only do so under the supervision of specially designated personnel. “The construction site supervisor inspected the workers’ cellphones when they were leaving after work, ensuring that no pictures had been taken, sent, or posted online. The government feared that this might smear CCP’s image,” the believer said. “Over 100 armed police officers in camouflage uniforms were patrolling the streets of our village, preventing churchgoers from ‘making troubles.’”
“The government comes up with various reasons to demolish religious sites,” an elderly local believer told Bitter Winter helplessly. “They treat anyone who refuses to obey them as lawbreakers, just like during the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, when students were designated as anti-revolutionaries at will. The families of the deceased were not even allowed to see their remains. No one dares to argue with the Communist Party.”
After the Vatican-China Deal of 2018 was signed, the CCP intensified the suppression of clergy members and congregations that refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Many Catholic pilgrimage sites have also been subjected to strict control and crackdowns. In late-September 2019, the statue of Virgin Mary in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tianjiajing, Henan Province, was removed, and an over 100-year-old altar buried in a pit.
The dean of a Catholic church told Bitter Winter that by destroying religious buildings and symbols, the government is signaling people that no church can hold higher power than the Communist Party, which is “the core of everything and should be exalted by all.” “The Party’s power is not stable now,” the dean continued. “They are afraid to see the Catholic Church united. Thus, they crack down on it, fearing that believers may rise and ‘make troubles.’”