Even the dead are not spared religious persecution in China, as most religious ceremonies are prohibited, and symbols are removed from believers’ gravesites.
by Tang Zhe
For people of faith, being buried according to religious rites is of utmost importance. In China, however, such wishes of the deceased are becoming increasingly hard to fulfill ever since the totalitarian regime imposed bans on religious funerals. To curb the influence of faith on China’s residents, even religious symbols from tombstones are being removed.
A priest’s gravesite stripped of religious elements.
On April 16, four government officials came to the Linjiayuan Catholic Church in Wenzhou city’s Cangnan county in the eastern province of Zhejiang. They ordered its director to remove the characters for “father” from the tombstone of John Wang Zhongfa, a priest who ardently opposed the CCP’s interference into affairs of the Catholic Church, who was buried in a nearby cemetery in 2017. The officials threatened to destroy the monument if orders were disobeyed. They also instructed to disassemble the roof and floor of a structure used for holding Mass in the cemetery and convert an adjacent building used by the clergy to change before services into a public toilet. The director had no choice but to do as ordered.
A congregation member told Bitter Winter that ever since Father John Wang came to the parish in the spring of 1982, he took care of the church affairs, and organized activities for believers, particularly the young.
In early November last year, Father Wang’s biography was removed from a stone tablet in front of his grave on orders from the local authorities, to ensure that future generations forget him.
After the changes were implemented, the site no longer looks like a resting place for a Catholic priest.
As Bitter Winter has previously reported, religious symbols are being removed from tombstones of believers across China. According to a ChinaAid report, 176 headstones with crosses were demolished last December in Xiapu county, administered by the prefecture-level city of Ningde in the southeastern province of Fujian.
Funerals surveilled and raided
On April 4, priests and believers from Yujiang Diocese in the southeastern province of Jiangxi went to the gravesite of its former bishop, Zeng Jingmu, to prepare it for the fourth anniversary of his death. As it turned out, the police surveilled the entire process.
The Chinese authorities now monitor everything related to religion: Even funerals of people of faith are held under the watchful eyes of officials.
In September last year, the family of a Catholic in Zhejiang’s Leqing city, who died of illness, was holding a funeral for the deceased when local government officials burst in and ordered to remove all religious elements from the site, including crosses and paintings. They also directed the group of churchgoers who were singing hymns to stop, threatening to refuse to cremate the deceased if they disobeyed.
For the following two days, as friends and relatives came to say their goodbyes, the deceased was transported for cremation, and his ashes were buried, officials kept close watch over the proceedings, ensuring that no religious elements appeared.
“The government imposes such control over all religious activities out of fear that spiritual traditions may influence people’s minds,” a local believer who attended the funeral commented. “At least 100 churchgoers came to the funeral. This is just what the government fears: that our religion prospers, and many people choose faith in God rather than the Communist Party.”
In December, a Catholic from Fuzhou city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, in his 80s, passed away. Before his death, he asked his sons to hold his funeral following Catholic rites. Respecting their father’s last wish, the sons called a priest and congregation members to pray and sing hymns at the funeral.
According to a family’s relative, having learned about the funeral, government officials showed up at the home of the deceased, where the funeral was held, and prohibited the sons to hold any religious ceremonies. “They said that since the Communist Party feeds them, the funeral should be organized according to its policies, not religious traditions,” the relative remembered. “The officials also asserted that Catholicism is a foreign religion, hailing from Rome, and that gatherings of believers may indicate their opposition to the government. If we refused to obey, they threatened to blacklist us and ensure that our children and grandchildren lose opportunities to get into college or enroll in the army.” It seems that the Vatican-China deal of 2018 did not change some local CCP authorities’ attitudes toward the Catholic Church.
The threatened family decided to discard all religious elements for the funeral. “My father was an avid Catholic for over 30 years, but we can’t send him to his final journey according to his last wish,” one of the sons told Bitter Winter.