As CCP’s “sinicization” campaign intensifies, Three-Self churches are forcibly transformed, losing religious symbols and any likeness to European architecture.
by Li Mingxuan
In March, Xu Xiaohong, chairman of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches, remarked at a conference that churches in China should free themselves of “western influence.” In response to President Xi Jinping’s “sinicization of religion” policy, churches must bear the name Zhong (“China”) and not Xi (“the West”), he proclaimed. He also said the symbols of foreign religions must be removed, denouncing “foreign anti-China forces” for using Christianity to subvert social stability in the country.
Mr. Xu’s remarks have even more galvanized the regime’s drive to “sinicize” government-controlled Three-Self churches that had been underway across China for quite some time. Religious venues under the state’s control are “adapted to Chinese socialism and patriotism” by introducing CCP propaganda into sermons, replacing crosses with Communist symbols, drastically altering the architectural style of buildings, and repurposing them for activities that have nothing to do with religion.
European-style spires dismantled
In late April, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of Linyi city in the eastern province of Shandong forcibly removed the cross from a Three-Self church in the city’s Lanshan district.
When officials came to inspect the church in early June, they claimed that it was too large – the two-story church building is 800 square meters in size – and its space must be reduced at least four times. The officials also proclaimed that the church’s three European-style spires must be torn down.
Half a month later, the government started transforming the church. Its European-style spires were dismantled, and the four Chinese characters for “Christian Church” removed from the entrance. Changes were also made inside the church. The lobby was divided into two areas – one half was left for congregation gatherings, and the other half converted into an activity center for seniors. On the second floor, about half of the space was converted into a neighborhood committee office. According to the church’s believers, the entire neighborhood property management company will be moved into the church in the future.
Government sources confirmed that the UFWD is altering churches as part of the de-Westernization drive, intended to resist foreign religious influences on Chinese believers.
“We can’t fight against the government. We have to make whatever alterations the UFWD tells us to make. Otherwise, our meeting venue will be shut down,” a believer from the church said helplessly, adding that Xi Jinping is following the path of Mao Zedong, who, during his rule, wanted to destroy people’s faith.
Communist Party supersedes religion
A Three-Self church that had all its permits in place in Gaojialing town of Poyang county, in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, also underwent drastic changes. The church’s cross was removed in March; and in May, local officials ordered to alter its appearance, because the building had several spires on the roof and religious declarations and symbols etched on its frontal wall.
The person in charge of the church was directed to make the changes, or the church would be demolished. The officials proclaimed that Christianity must adhere to the principles of Chinese socialism, and the population should study Chinese culture and believe in the Communist Party, not in “the foreigners’ Jesus.”
To save the church, the person in charge had no choice but to remove the church’s spires and the Chinese characters for “God loves the world,” “Christianity,” and other religious symbols and words from the church’s façade. Afterward, proclamations “External personnel are prohibited from preaching” and “Minors shall not be admitted for religious belief” have been hung on either side of the church entrance.
Seeing the forceful transformation of the church, a local preacher commented that the government is dismantling crosses and altering churches’ appearances in large numbers because it is afraid of the spread of Christianity and that it may interfere with the CCP’s totalitarian rule. Hence, officials go to homes of Christians, putting up portraits of Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping and sermonizing that the Party supersedes religion – people are only allowed to believe in the Party.
Guxiandu town in Poyang county has 26 churches. The local government proclaimed that the number was too high and should be reduced. They started the process by changing their appearance. One of the transformed places of worship was Sanyuan Church: in March, its cross was dismantled, three spires removed, and the church’s perimeter wall torn down.