Numerous religious symbols have been taken down in localities throughout China ahead of the central government’s religious work inspections.
by Li Mingxuan
In May 2019, a central government inspection team came to the eastern province of Shandong to evaluate how local authorities have been carrying religious work. In mid-autumn, they returned, triggering more severe crackdowns against all faiths, initiated by local authorities so they could get a pat on the back from the higher-ups.
One of the victims of the crackdown was a 7-meter-tall statue of Jesus Blessing atop the bell tower of the Church of Christ the King – one of the three state-approved Catholic churches in Linjiazhuang village, administered by the Licheng district of Jinan, the capital of Shandong.
On September 9, officials from the provincial United Front Work Department came to the church, demanding to demolish the statue of Jesus because “it was too high.” They claimed that when the central government inspection team visited the area, “they could see the statue driving away on the expressway.”
Afraid that the church could be shut down if the statue were not removed, the person in charge of it agreed to take down the icon. In mid-October, more than 30 Public Security Bureau and Anti-Riot Brigade officers, dispatched from the Licheng district, barricaded off the church, prohibiting believers from entering or even taking photos. The statues of Jesus and two angels were soon taken down from the roof.
“I was sad to see the statue of Jesus craned off,” a believer in her eighties said with tears in her eyes. “No one could stop the demolition. The government would destroy the church if the statue were not taken down. It was an order from a higher level of government, and we could do nothing about it.”
During the demolition, a passerby took some photos out of curiosity. Immediately, public security officers stopped her and forcibly deleted the pictures from her phone. They only let her go after recording her personal information.
“The officers were afraid that it would harm the reputation of the Communist Party if the photos were uploaded onto the internet and people outside China saw them,” a local believer told Bitter Winter.
In late September, ahead of the visit by the central inspection team, the government of the Linhe district in Bayannur, a city in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, demolished crosses and religious signs in 22 churches and meeting venues.
On September 29, the cross was forcibly demolished in the Lord’s Grace Church, a state-approved Three-Self church. Law Enforcement Bureau officials also sealed off the donation box, claiming that believers’ donations constitute “illegal fundraising.”
Seeing how rude and violent the law enforcement officers were, congregation members did not dare to intervene. One of the believers commented that the officers “were acting like regular bandits.”
The next day, a Catholic church in the district was also suppressed. The Chinese characters for the “Catholic Church” at the entrance and “Jesus Loves You” in the church courtyard were dismantled after local officials declared that these phrases “negatively affect the city’s image.”