To intimidate unregistered churches in Zhejiang Province, local officials order to remove crosses and other religious symbols, close down the venues.
by Zhao Mingzhe
On June 9, Ninghai county government officials in the eastern province of Zhejiang, accompanied by Religious Affairs Bureau personnel and a dozen workers, stormed into a venue of the old Local Church. The primary reason for the raid—to make its director join the state-run Three-Self Church.
The old Local Church is a Chinese Christian religious movement that follows the teachings by Watchman Nee (Ni Tuosheng, 倪柝聲, 1903–1972). Because of its refusal to join the official church, the movement has been a target of the government’s persecution, resulting in massive shutdown or even demolition of venues.
A congregation member told Bitter Winter that one of the officials threatened to imprison the director if he continued refusing to be controlled by the state. “The officials said that if it is not part of the Three-Self Church, our church is a xie jiao,” the believer remembered. “If we register and raise the national flag, accepting the government’s control, our church would not be treated as a ‘cult.’”
Despite intimidations and threats, the director did not compromise. In response, the officials ordered the demolition of the venue’s cross, remove the podium, all religious symbols, and posters. All desks and chairs were emptied from the site, doors locked and sealed with paper strips.
“When they demolished the cross, we, elderly believers, got on our knees to pray in tears,” the believer recounted. “We felt pain in our hearts every time they hit it. We can’t stand up to them and prevent the forced demolition.”
He also told Bitter Winter that officials had repeatedly pressured the church to join the Three-Self Church, banning all meetings in the venue until their requirements were met. The authorities demanded to raise the national flag and display portraits of President Xi Jinping and Chairman Mao, install surveillance cameras, let government-approved clergy to preach in the church, allow the government to control the church’s finances, and ban children under 18 from entering the church.
“We won’t agree to these requirements,” the believer was determined.
On June 9, another old Local Church venue in Ninghai county was raided to make it join the Three-Self Church. Local officials, police officers, and over 20 hired workers stormed into the site. They savagely smashed the lectern and floorboards, removed the cross from the roof. They told the congregation that 27 churches in the area would have their crosses toppled.
On June 16, government-hired workers smashed and removed the lectern and floorboards in a remote old Local Church venue in the county, throwing them into the courtyard, because it refused to post portraits of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong.
On June 12, more than 20 local officials and workers carrying hammers, shovels, and other tools, stormed into an old Local Church venue in the county’s Dajiahe town. They demolished the cross and removed large Chinese characters for “God loves the world” on the venue’s outside wall. The meeting rooms on the venue’s second and third floors were shut down.
The same day, over ten officials and workers removed the cross from a Seventh-day Adventist Church venue in the area. They also smashed its podium and donation box, tore down religious symbols from the walls, and confiscated several religious books. One official filmed the entire process, explaining that the footage will be “sent to superiors to prove the task completion.”
A congregation member recalled the officials warning that any religious venue not approved by the state and has no religious activity venue registration certificate can’t hold gatherings, and all its items must be removed.