As the deadly virus was spreading through China, the government continued cracking down on temples and churches, destroying buildings and harassing believers.
by Li Pei
On March 6, the Hall of Great Strength, a Buddhist temple in the Hanshan district of Handan city in the northern province of Hebei, was destroyed on orders from the local government. An eyewitness reported that 36 officials from the district government, Religious Affairs Bureau, Public Security Bureau, Criminal Investigation Brigade, and other law enforcement departments came to oversee the demolition of the temple, which was built 12 years ago at the cost of over 300,000 RMB (about $ 42,000). The road leading to the temple was blocked, and two excavators were brought in. An elderly resident stepped forward, trying to stop the demolition, but government employees dragged her away and made sure that no one could approach the temple.
A local Buddhist told Bitter Winter that officials ordered to destroy the temple because it “lacked a religious activity venue registration certificate.” However, the temple director has never been approached by any government institution asking him to obtain the certificate.
“The government just wanted to demolish the temple,” the Buddhist said with anger. “People cannot argue with authorities; they will accuse us of breaking the law as they please. Judging from this situation, this country is about to perish.”
Protestant churches also continue to be targeted amid the coronavirus pandemic, and not even state-run Three-Self churches are spared: buildings are destroyed and congregations harassed.
A house church member from Xuzhuang town, administered by Dengfeng city in the central province of Henan, told Bitter Winter that on February 7, officials came to his church venue to inspect if lockdown requirements were being implemented. “But when they saw some Bible verses written on the blackboard, they berated us, saying that ‘China is the land of the Communist Party, and we are not allowed to hold religious beliefs,’” the believer remembered. “With these words, they smashed everything in the venue and left, locking the door. They returned in the afternoon to take photos.”
A government employee from Henan’s Xinmi city told Bitter Winter that in early March, the municipal authorities gave orders to each town and township government to conduct door-to-door inspections looking for religious couplets. They were instructed to remove any couplet they find immediately, without exception, and cooperate with the Public Security Bureau and other departments to find out where they had been produced.
Despite the raging coronavirus epidemic at the time, each town government dispatched numerous personnel to look for religious couplets. On March 10 and 11 alone, 14 households in Huangzhai village in Xinmi-administered Laiji town had their religious couples torn down.
“Government employees removed couplets from the entrance to my shop, claiming that anything mentioning “God” or “Lord” is banned,” a local shop owner told Bitter Winter. “They threatened to close down my shop if I post Christian couplets again.”