As soon as coronavirus lockdowns were lifted, government officials in Duchang county resumed crackdown campaigns on places of worship.
by Wang Yong
As reported by Bitter Winter, numerous state-run Protestant churches throughout the southeastern province of Jiangxi suffered clampdowns at the hands of local authorities in April. According to newly received information, in the two months after quarantine measures have been eased, the government of Duchang county, administered by the prefecture-level city of Jiujiang, forcibly removed crosses from at least 26 Three-Self churches and installed surveillance cameras in them.
On April 8, government officials of all levels inspected the Gospel Church in Duchang’s Dashu township. Five days later, a county government official demanded its director to remove the church’s cross and threatened to “demolish the building if he disobeyed.” They also ordered to install surveillance cameras in the venue, for which the director spent 1,000 RMB (about $ 140) of the church’s money.
“The government told us that this was needed to prevent ‘xie jiao infiltration,’” the director said. Congregation members think that these measures are, in reality, intended to watch over their every move.
Using the same “anti-infiltration” pretext, the Wangdun township government removed the cross from a Three-Self church on the Xinqiao Old Street on May 9, warning the congregation not to object, or the church would be demolished. The venue was built with the money raised by local elderly believers.
As other public places in the province reopen after the lockdown, places of worship remain under orders to stay closed.
“Seeing so many people turn to Christianity, the government fears that they will threaten its regime,” a member of the Tianfu Church in Beishan township told Bitter Winter. “That is why so many measures to control us are adopted, including bans to reopen. The state continuously suppresses us and tells us to follow the Communist Party only despite provisions on freedom of religion in the Constitution.”
A local preacher said that crosses from the majority of churches in the county have already been taken off. “The government also offers cash rewards to encourage village officials to demolish crosses as soon as possible,” he added.
On May 14, eight or so village officials stormed into the Nanlong Church in Dasha town. On the pretext that “the church was too close to the village committee office,” they tore down all religious symbols, including the cross, and shut down the church.
An angered local believer explained that the congregation of another church was merged with the Nanlong Church last year. The church director then spent 50,000 RMB (about $ 7,000) to renovate the venue to accommodate the expanded congregation. “Church members had to fund the renovation with their hard-earned money, but now the church is shut down, its cross demolished,” the believer couldn’t control his despair.
On May 8, officials forcibly removed the cross from a Three-Self venue in Dashu township’s Fengtian village, claiming that “the cross would fall and harm people.” In the township’s Fenghuo village, the cross was taken off a venue on April 30 because Religious Affairs Bureau and township government officials declared that “it was higher than the national flag.”
The provincial religious supervision team previously organized numerous secret inspections of local Three-Self churches, subsequently putting forward proposals to rectify them. According to a villager, a new round of inspections is underway in Duchang and Poyang counties. “Only the Communist Party has the final say, just like during the Cultural Revolution,” he added.