Eager to prove to higher-ups their gusto in suppressing religions, Xingyang city authorities shattered numerous Christian and folk religion places of worship.
by Li Changshan
From April 15 to 17, Wang Yang – a member of the Central Politburo Standing Committee and chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – visited the central province of Henan to inspect religious work and investigate rural religious venues. During his meetings in the cities of Kaifeng and Zhoukou, the provincial capital Zhengzhou, and other localities, he emphasized the need to strengthen the Communist Party’s leadership in religious work and to “actively explore effective ways to ‘sinicize’ religion.”
Enthused by the visit, local governments took to action suppressing people of faith. In one of the visited localities under the jurisdiction of Zhengzhou – Xingyang, a county-level city with 630,000 residents, – at least half a hundred of religious venues in its 16 township-level administrative divisions were subjected to severe crackdowns.
Five churches repurposed within three days
From April 27 to 30, no fewer than five churches – government-approved Three-Self and house churches alike –were repurposed, leaving believers with no place to practice their faith.
Three spires on a Three-Self church in Gaoshan town were dismantled on April 30, and a signboard “Activity Center of Shidonggou Village, Gaoshan Town, Xingyang City” was put up on the church’s exterior wall.
Two days before, a True Jesus house church in Chengguan township’s Taoli village was converted into a cultural activity center, after officials bullied the congregation into agreeing to the takeover, threatening to demolish the church building if they refused.
In Houbaiyang village of Wangcun town, located about 14 kilometers from Xingyang’s downtown, local officials gave the congregation of a Three-Self church three options for the future of their place of worship: demolition, takeover, or selling. To save the church, believers collected 180,000 RMB (about $ 26,150) and bought it. This meant nothing to the authorities: on April 27, the church’s spires were demolished, and a sign proclaiming that it is now an elderly center appeared outside.
Meanwhile, a Three-Self church in Wangcun’s village by the same name was converted into the “Club for Opera Fans.”
A house church meeting venue in Xuzhuang village, also under the jurisdiction of Wangcun, was converted into the “Warehouse of Yangzi Mechanical Equipment Co., Ltd.”
Folk religion temples suffer severe blows
Starting from April 27, in just one week, 24 temples, mostly folk religion venues, were shut down in Jiayu town. Believers report that the local governments carrying out the closures said that they were implementing “the policy from above.” The officials also threatened to arrest anyone who is found burning incense in the closed down temples.
“The Communist Party’s policies are even harsher than those of Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution; they are too strict. No one dares to disobey them,” the person in charge of one of the temples remarked.
In Guangwu town, nearly twenty folk religion temples were shut down from May 12 to 14. The temples’ entrances were sealed off, incense burners either smashed, filled with bricks or hidden away.
One of the targeted folk religion places of worship – Fenghuangding Great Temple in Wangding village – was shut down on May 13, and its large incense burner was overturned. The town mayor took part in the crackdown, taking photos. Government-hired guards were left to watch over the temple, prohibiting worshippers from burning incense.
The temple, built at the cost of more than 1.6 million RMB (about $ 232,500), covers the area of about 1,800 square meters. On the first and 15th day of each lunar month, an endless stream of believers used to come to the temple to worship and burn incense.
Local believers were distraught and angered by the government’s actions, also likening the situation to the times of Mao Zedong. “They are forbidding people from burning incense and forcing everyone to obey and follow the Party,” lamented the villagers after the closure of the temple.
On April 30, in Chen’gou village of Qiaolou town, a folk religion temple, covering more than 280 square meters, faced an even harsher fate – it was destroyed.