Before the second round of religious work review in Shandong Province, local authorities intensified crackdowns on religious venues and groups of all denominations.
by Zhang Wenshu
Since the United Front Work Department (UFWD) launched its first-ever nationwide religious supervision program in September 2018, later sending special inspection teams throughout the country, religious venues and believers have been suffering particularly harsh systematic persecution.
In May, a central inspection team came to the eastern province of Shandong, accelerating the religious persecution in the region. Half a year later they returned, triggering more severe crackdowns across the area.
Believers forced to agree to “stop gatherings voluntarily”
According to an official from UFWD, 40 central inspection teams have been dispatched across the country. “This is not a trivial matter. Every level of government must prepare for upcoming inspections,” the official said.
Awaiting visits from the central government, local authorities are pulling out all the stops to ensure that all religious venues and groups in their jurisdictions are “properly suppressed.” According to believers who have gone through some of these repressive crusades, local officials take a lot of photos to have material evidence to demonstrate to their superiors their “achievements.”
On October 20, officials from the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau in Jinan city dispersed the congregation of a Sola Fide house church, warning believers not to meet again or they would be arrested.
According to a congregation member, five days before, officials from the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau raided the meeting venue and forced the host to write a statement promising to “stop gatherings voluntarily.”
A believer from another house church in the area told Bitter Winter that the Bureau shut down the venue he belongs to on October 13, the host was also forced to sign similar statement and the congregation threatened not to meet again. All the crosses and other religious symbols in the venue were destroyed. The officials claimed that more than 50 churches under their jurisdiction had already been shut down. Even venues of the state-run Three-Self Church have been disbanded, believers forced to sign “no meeting” statements.
Mosques, Islamic culture areas targeted
On November 2, officials from the government of Rencheng district in Jining city hired a construction team to ‘rectify’ a women’s mosque. Not only religious signs and symbols were removed, but its dome was demolished, and the national flag displayed at the entrance.
Even non-religious sites with Islamic symbols are targeted. Qingzhou, an ancient city administered by the prefecture-level city of Weifang, is home to about 20,000 Hui people. Qingzhou Ancient Street, well-known throughout China, is lined with Islamic shops, which have been there for generations, some with a history spanning hundreds of years. The on-going anti-Muslim campaign didn’t spare the street: Islamic symbols have been removed from the signboards of about 120 Hui shops.
Islamic symbols were removed from 54 Hui shops in Linyi city’s Luozhuang district. The owner of one of them, a butcher, told Bitter Winter that the sign removal campaign is nationwide, and any business that disobeys is threatened to be shut down. While his shop was being rectified, the butcher was warned by officials “to keep in line with the Communist Party, listen to President Xi Jinping, and do as the Party says.”
Commenting on the intensifying government’s efforts to suppress Islamic traditions and customs, a local imam said that quite soon, Hui men will be prohibited from wearing prayer caps and women headscarves. “Xi Jinping intends to make all Muslims only believe in and listen to the Communist Party,” the imam added.
Buddhist statues destroyed, temples rectified
Yuquan Temple in Laiyang, a county-level city administered by Yantai city, underwent drastic changes ahead of the visit by the inspection team. All Buddhist statues were covered or altered, adding beards or putting knives and swords into their hands. Chinese characters for “Namo Amitābhāya” on the temple’s outside wall were overlaid with a slogan about the importance of protecting forests from fires. The donor recognition plaque was painted over, and the Chinese characters for “the country is prosperous, and the people live in peace” written on it.
Tianqi Temple in Anqiu, a county-level city under the jurisdiction of Weifang, was very popular with worshippers, especially during the yearly temple fair. In early November, the local government sent personnel to destroy the Bodhisattva statue, the remains of which were thrown into a nearby river. Local Buddhists are worried that it won’t be long before the Temple is also destroyed.
In May, a three-faced Bodhisattva statue outside Huangshan Temple in Tianheng town, a division of Jimo district in Qingdao city, was wrapped to hide it from the inspection team during the first visit. In October, however, the local government didn’t spare it ahead of the inspection’s second round – the statue was demolished.