The government harassed these Protestant places of worship on a variety of pretexts: from “disturbing neighbors” to “supporting protests in Hong Kong.”
by Ye Ling
The Religious Affairs Bureau of Fujian Province organized a conference for the directors of all state-run Protestant churches in September 2019. A bureau official told the participants that because Christianity has been growing rapidly in China in recent years, the central government ordered to control this growth by reducing the number of places of worship.
According to a Three-Self pastor from Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian, as a result, over 200 Three-Self meeting venues were selected to be closed, merged, and repurposed.
In late November, the government shut down the Qinting venue, subordinate to Huaxiang Church—the largest Three-Self church in Fuzhou—claiming that it was unlicensed and that its gatherings “disturbed people.” But according to some residents in the locality, the venue never troubled them. The next month, the venue director applied to be managed by another Three-Self church but was refused. “The government promised to approve our application, but never did,” a believer from the closed-down venue said. “They just want to eliminate our faith, fearing that they will lose control over so many people who believe in God.”
In November, officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau in Fuzhou confiscated the religious activity venue registration certificate from a meeting venue affiliated with the Zhongzhou Island Church. The reason: the church was in the city’s Cangshan district, while the venue in a different one—Jin’an. The venue became illegal without the certificate and had to stop its activities in January. In October, the Bureau closed down another venue in the district, called Licuo, for “being unlicensed.”
Eight Three-Self meeting venues in Nanyu town, administered by Fuzhou’s Minhou county, were shut down and merged with other churches. In late November, the government ordered the Mingjun venue in Fuzhou’s Mawei district to remove all belongings and stop gatherings, claiming that the venue was too close to another Three-Self church.
A Three-Self preacher from Fujian’s Putian city told Bitter Winter that in November, he attended a conference held by the city’s Religious Affairs Bureau. Participants were informed about impending crackdowns on churches because “Western countries incited Hong Kong Christians to join demonstrations,” and some churches in the mainland also support the pro-democracy movement.
A few days later, the preacher’s venue was closed down on the pretext that it was unlicensed. He applied for a new permit but was refused. “A government official told me that he couldn’t approve my application because I believed in Jesus while following the Communist Party,” the preacher said.
Officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau in the prefecture-level city of Heyuan in Guangdong, a province neighboring Hong Kong, harassed a Three-Self venue in November, demanding to know if any Hong Kong residents had visited it and where its donation money had been distributed. The officials explained that churches were banned from having donation boxes in case they plan to collect money to support protestors in Hong Kong. They also stressed that minors were not allowed in churches out of government’s fear that “they will take to the streets when they grow up, like in Hong Kong.” The venue director had to take away the donation box and remove the cross and other religious symbols.
“The government wants to restrict the development of Christianity by shutting down venues, state-run churches including,” a Three-Self pastor from Heyuan commented. “Since Xi Jinping took office, religious persecution has become more severe than ever before. He does not allow people to believe in God and wants them only to worship him.”