Local authorities across China implement the central government’s orders of reducing the number of believers by closing down state-approved churches.
The authorities’ closures of churches in the vicinity of government agencies and schools have been taking place across China for quite some time. Documents from local governments in some provinces, previously accessed by Bitter Winter, stipulate the provisions to substantially reduce the number of religious venues or close down and repurpose the ones next to schools, village committee offices, kindergartens or residential communities. Subsequently, religious meeting venues have been closed down due to their proximity to schools in the provinces of Fujian, Hebei, and Shandong. Bitter Winter continues to receive reports about such instances.
On October 10, 2018, more than 20 government personnel from Wuhan city in Central China’s Hubei Province came to a Three-Self church to conduct an inspection. The person in charge of the church showed them the church’s valid documentation, but a government official claimed it was too close to a “Party members’ activity center,” and that wasn’t “allowed under national policies.” The church was ordered to remove the sign “True Jesus Church,” which was not done.
Afterward, local government officials pressed the person in charge almost every day to relocate, saying, “You have to move no matter what. Otherwise, the government will punish you at any time.” The officials continuously threatened him, and on November 14, they forcibly removed the “True Jesus Church” themselves.
“The government never provided an address for the new church. Where are we going to move?” a church worker said. “It cost more than 2,000,000 RMB (about $300,000) to build the church. But now, the church faces the fate of being shut down at any time. They’re just afraid that we will engage in ‘infiltration’ next to the government, affecting Party members.”
One member of the congregation was even brave enough to ask government officials why the village committee office couldn’t be relocated instead of the church. The response was … not kind.
“You want the Communist Party to step aside and the state to compromise with you? That’s out of the question!” a government official chided. “China is under the rule of the Communist Party, not of the cross.”
A pastor of a local Three-Self church says the government is enforcing the ideological struggle. “Just as the cross can never coexist with the national flag, in the eyes of the Communist Party, churches can’t coexist with government departments, let alone occupy a more important position than them,” he said.
In August 2018, officials from the Bureau of Religious Affairs in Zhoukou city’s Dancheng county, in the central province of Henan, issued an order: Three-Self churches must be located far away from schools and village committee offices or else they’ll be shut down and serious offenders fined and arrested. Subsequently, a local Three-Self church was ordered to stop holding gatherings.
“Our church has legitimate documentation. When holding our gatherings on Sundays, there are no classes at the school. It didn’t affect teaching,” the person in charge of the church said. To which a township government official replied: “Having documentation is useless. This is the policy from the central government. No one can violate it.”
On August 12, two preachers of the church were arrested. The police forced them to guarantee they won’t hold gatherings at the church anymore and only after they agreed were they released. Since then, their church has been forced to shut down.
On August 19, 2018, a Three-Self church in Zhoukou’s Luyi county was also shut down for being located too close to a school. This church has now been repurposed into an umbrella factory.
From August to October last year, several churches in the area under the jurisdiction of Zhoukou city were shut down for the same reasons. While shutting down a Three-Self church, the Party secretary of Taikang county’s Zhangji township said: “State regulations stipulate that the number of Christians is only allowed to decrease and cannot increase. If you come and hold a gathering again, we will revoke your old-age subsidies.”
“If the church is close to a government agency, they say it yields a bad political impact; if it’s close to a residential area, they say that it disturbs the people; if it’s close to a school, they say it affects education; if it’s close to an arterial road, they say that it promotes religious belief,” the person in charge of a Three-Self church said. “The government uses all kinds of reasons to shut down churches. [Just as the saying goes,] ‘If you want to condemn someone, don’t worry about the pretext!’”
Reported by Jiang Tao