In August, authorities in Henan removed hundreds of church crosses as part of the plan to stop an “invisible” spread of religion. The vast majority of these were at the government-controlled Protestant Three-Self churches.
Bitter Winter has accessed an internal document, published in July by Henan’s Special Operations Office, which emphasizes that crosses placed in high places have the effect of “invisible evangelization.”
To prevent that, officials should undertake ideological work to convince people to remove these crosses voluntarily. In reality, however, authorities use coercion to enact this policy of tearing down crosses.
In August, more than 600 crosses were removed from churches in at least five different cities in Henan. In Ruyang alone, 76 crosses were dismantled within four days. Two churches were even converted into activity centers for seniors later on. In Yongcheng and Shangqiu, a total of 50 crosses were removed.
On August 23, authorities removed the cross at a Three-Self church in Zhengzhou city. Government employees were sent in along with tools to saw off the cross, but as they did that, it caught fire. When believers tried taking photos, they were told they would be breaking the law if they put those online.
Three days later, crosses were removed from a Three-Self church in Xiguan, located at the intersection of Tiantan Road and Zhouyuan Road in Jiyuan city. A government-controlled church in Luoyang city’s Xin’an county had its cross removed on August 28.
The letter emphasized that the authorities’ forced removals of Christian crosses are illegal and limit the freedom of belief of religious people. It also says that it is discriminatory and disrespectful, and has severely intensified the conflict between the people and the government.
However, the letter and the protests were entirely ignored by the authorities. Instead, crosses from 27 churches in the county were removed within four days, including the Chengguan church, the largest one in the area.
According to local officials, tearing down of crosses is a state policy and is non-negotiable. If church leaders refuse to co-operate, they risk having their churches sealed off. By tearing down the crosses, the authorities want to ensure that outsiders in a town can never find a church.
Reported by Jiang Tao
The cross is removed from Chengguan Town Three-Self Church in Luanchuan county of Luoyang city: