China’s southeastern province continues to intensify religious persecution measures after coronavirus lockdown measures were lifted.
by Wang Yong
Venues of the old Local Church (Laodifangjiaohui, 老地方教會)—unregistered Christian congregations that follow the teachings of the Chinese minister Watchman Nee (1903-1972)— were among many other victims of China’s religious persecution in the past few months. More than 40 churches were suppressed in four cities of the southeastern province of Jiangxi: Shangrao, Jingde, Yichun, and Fuzhou. Some were demolished, while others closed or repurposed by the government.
At least 28 venues were stifled in Shangrao city’s Guangfeng and Guangxin districts and Yugan county. A local government employee revealed to Bitter Winter that the CCP is fighting Christianity for “ideological territory and people’s hearts” in rural areas and wants to limit its development. To achieve this goal, the municipal government requires localities under its jurisdiction to strengthen atheist propaganda, demolish unregistered places of worship, and intensively “sinicize” the state-run venues.
On April 27, as local government officials oversaw the demolition of an old Local Church venue in the Guangxin district, they warned its congregation that “believing in Jesus is believing in a foreign god.” And “since the coronavirus was brought to China from abroad, believing in Jesus means going against the Party.”
“If believers protested against the demolition, they would be labeled as reactionary elements,” a local believer said helplessly. “The Communist Party is so unreasonable!”
On the morning of May 22, an old Local Church in Guangfeng district’s Hengshan town was cleared out on orders from the local government. Its chairs and tables were confiscated. In the afternoon, unbeknown to the congregation, officials brought in a crane to remove the church’s cross.
In late April, another old Local Church meeting venue in the district’s Shatian town had its cross, the Ten Commandments, and other religious symbols removed. “The government is like a stone, and we are like an egg—we cannot defeat them!” a church preacher told Bitter Winter.
Since quarantine measures were relaxed, authorities throughout Jiangxi intensified crackdowns on Christian churches, even those administered by the state. In the past few months, crosses were removed from at least 26 Three-Self churches in Duchang, a county in Jiujiang city. From April 18 to 30, 48 Three-Self venues were shut down in Shangrao’s Yugan county.
On May 12, an old Local Church venue in Yugan county was repurposed for an activity center for the elderly. A congregation member recalled that the government arranged people to climb over the church’s courtyard wall to remove its cross. They later used shovels to take off the venue’s signboard.
A local official revealed to Bitter Winter that the government is eliminating unregistered churches now, and state-approved Three-Self churches will soon be targeted for elimination too.
On May 17, seven police officers and village officials raided an old Local Church venue in Taqian, a town in Leping city. They tore down Biblical verses and religious symbols from the walls and burned them, as well as smashed the church’s donation box.
A congregation member told Bitter Winter that the local government pressured the church to register with the state, or the congregation would not be allowed to hold gatherings. They could even be arrested, or the venue could be destroyed. “We won’t register,” the believer explained. “If we surrender, we’ll be controlled by the government, forced to raise the national flag, and sing the national anthem. It means believing in the Communist Party, not God. But gatherings can’t be organized unless we register. By doing so, the government aims to eliminate our faith.”