Authorities in China’s Henan Province are taking over churches and turning them into theaters, game rooms, and other types of entertainment venues.
Churches are supposed to be the place where Christians worship God. In central China’s Henan Province, however, the government is forcibly occupying churches in large numbers and turning them into theaters, game rooms, and other types of entertainment venues — all to Christians’ torment.
To look at the government-approved Three-Self church in Caowu village, under the jurisdiction of Shangqiu city, it’s but a shadow of its former glory: Where there once was a pulpit, there’s a platform with the words “Cultural Stage” in big, eye-catching characters behind it. Where people could once go to hear the words of the gospel, they now hear the sounds of the Yu Opera (yu ju, Yu stands for Henan) spreading Xi Jinping’s message: “Don’t forget the original intention; keep the mission in mind.”
A small performance at the church in Caowu village, which is now also covered with party propaganda:
It’s been two months since the Chinese government shut down the church in Caowu village and turned it into an entertainment center that propagates “socialist core values,” at least according to the poster that adorn the walls instead of the cross that was upon the building before. The words “Christian Church” were replaced with the words “Great Love for China.” And signs that read “Caowu Village Integrated Cultural Service Center” and “New Age Cultural Practice Center in the Model Area of Urban-Rural Integration Project in Shangqiu” were hung up by the doorway.
The same goes for a Three-Self church in Nanyang city, in the southwest county of Tanghe, which has also been hosting secular performances for a month; every weekend the county government organizes operas at the church. Prior to this, the church’s cross was taken down from the building, the church’s facilities cleared out, and the church renamed a sports and cultural activity center.
This movement of forced occupation and repurposing of churches is already silently beginning to unfold in Henan Province. According to an internal document, titled Compilation of Special Operation Exemplary Cases, which was issued by Henan’s provincial special operations office in July 2018 and obtained by Bitter Winter, a special focus on Christian houses of worship is now demanded by the government.
In order to “effectively curb Christianity’s excessive momentum,” authorities are demanding focused “regulation” of “privately established” Christian congregation sites, the document reads, “by adopting various measures of transformation, repurposing, and closures, and exploring a unique approach to progressively transform them into activity fronts for poverty alleviation for villagers and for enriching villagers’ leisure and recreational activities and spiritual and cultural lives.” It also requires “adopting division and disintegration methods to transform privately established congregation sites with certain scopes and relatively large numbers of members… Appropriately merging, consolidating, and repurposing open Christian sites, especially those with relatively large numbers of members, and that are relatively close to each other, in accordance with the demands of the spirit of these special operations.”
It’s not just the “privately established” congregation sites that are being “repurposed” and “transformed,” but the state-sanctioned ones, too, like the Three-Self churches mentioned above. And in order to go after any and all kinds of places of worship, the government is encouraging other citizens to proactively join the “entertainment” forces, claiming it’s for the enrichment of the “recreational” lives of the masses —when, in reality, they’re trying to eliminate religion’s influence on people by filling their life with entertainment.
Compilation of Special Operation Exemplary Cases specifically demands “organizing for village officials and village-level assistants to conduct ideological work for the religious masses, and simultaneously launching activities of ‘bringing culture to the countryside,’ making it so that those with wavering faith give up their faith, and so that the room for faith to survive shrinks.”
In a publication obtained by Bitter Winter, a booklet titled What Rural Grassroots Officials Should Know and Be Able to Do for Their Religious Tasks issued in October 2018 by the Ethnic and Religious Committee of a county in Henan, it states that the government “must further put the grassroots cultural fronts into use; extensively launch ‘Happy Sundays’ and other colorful cultural activities for the masses on Sundays and during religious holidays; enrich the people’s spiritual and cultural lives and fulfill their spiritual and cultural needs; and gradually eliminate the influence of religion.”
And so, on September 2, the sound of percussion instruments emanated from a Three-Self church in a village that is part of Zhanglin town, in Zhenping county, under the jurisdiction of Nanyang city – local government employees brought a percussion team of 13 people for a celebration of the opening of the “Gaozhuang village People’s Activity Center,” which was attended by more than 100 people. The village officials even published the times that the “activity center” would be open, encouraging everyone to come for a “rich recreational life.”
The church has been known as the “Gaozhuang Village People’s Activity Center” for over four months now, and all images of Jesus, the Ten Commandments and crosses have all been replaced with playing cards, mahjong tables, Chinese checkers sets, and other recreational facilities. Many other churches in Henan have been repurposed into game rooms as well; Bitter Winter has received cases documenting over 30 examples.
The mayor and the deputy secretary of Kongji township of Ningling county, under the jurisdiction of the prefecture-level city of Shangqiu, as well as other government employees, even personally gathered villagers to watch an opera at a house church congregation site that had been repurposed. The theme of the event, according to the villagers, was “eulogizing and following the Party.”
A church in Shangqiu city forcibly occupied by the authorities is now hosting opera performances:
“The church is a holy temple for worshiping God; seeing it be forcibly occupied by the government and turned into an entertainment venue is even worse than if it had been demolished,” a believer said.
Reported by Jiang Tao