The six-month-long campaign was launched after President Xi Jinping’s orders to the provincial government to crack down on Christianity.
by Deng Changlin
As Bitter Winter has reported, President Xi Jinping gave direct orders to the government of the eastern province of Jiangsu to launch crackdowns on the Christian faith at the start of summer last year. The operation, which lasted for six months, concentrated on reducing the number of venues—unregistered and state-run alike—and people of faith, removing crosses, and strengthening the management of the clergy and believers.
On November 10, over 100 villages’ officials, Religious Affairs Bureau and United Front Work Department personnel, came to shut down the Xing’ou Church in Sheyang, a county in the prefecture-level city of Yancheng. They were met by the congregation of this Three-Self church, who were guarding the venue day and night. A few days later, officials found a moment when there were no believers in the church and locked its entrance. Over 100 congregation members then braved the rain to pray in front of the church.
A churchgoer revealed to Bitter Winter that in September, the government pressed the church director to shut down the venue, threatening to detain him if he refused. The next month, village officials went to the homes of congregants to force them to sign statements promising “not to petition the government, attend meetings, or make troubles.” Village officials coerced those who refused by threatening to impede their family members’ employment and welfare benefits or hinder their children’s future.
The Three-Self Mu’en Church in Sanshu town in Huai’an city’s Huaiyin district was ordered to merge with two other Three-Self churches on November 8. The congregation of several hundred believers that met in a 1,200-square-meter church were supposed to assemble with other believers in a new venue a bit over 200 square meters in size. Understanding that this arrangement will never work, the church director and over 150 congregants launched a petition, asking the government to withdraw the merger decision. But to no avail. “Such mergers are part of religious persecution,” a churchgoer lamented to Bitter Winter.
“The state is reducing the number of churches,” a local government employee explained. “Churches must do whatever the government tells them to. Even if believers are right.”
From July to September, Lianyungang city officials repeatedly convened the directors of local Three-Self churches, demanding them to rent or sell their churches under threats to fine and detain them or demolish their venues otherwise.
To save his church, a congregation member in the city’s Guannan county rented the venue and converted it into a diner for families. In many other cases, the government turned churches into nursing homes, lecture halls, or even factories.
“The provincial supervision team came for inspections to Lianyungang and found that there were too many churches and believers here,” a village secretary in Guannan county said. “They were afraid that no one would support the Communist Party.”
Last July, the government of Shuyang, a county administered by the prefecture-level city of Suqian, demanded to close a local Three-Self church and hand over its account books, religious venue registration certificate, and official seal to the local police station. According to the church director, the government also confiscated licenses from 23 other Three-Self churches. Without them, congregations become illegal, and the state can disperse them.
Another Three-Self church was forced to close after its preacher’s preaching certificate was taken by the government, supposedly to replace it with a new one. Officials threatened to arrest the preacher’s mother and “deprive his descendants of opportunities to join the army and become public servants if he preached again.”
“The Communist Party wants to put all believers under its control,” the preacher said with anger. “It does not allow us to believe in God and wants to eliminate all religions.”