Amid intensifying religious suppression in China, even membership in an official church no longer guarantees believers that they can practice their faith.
by Li Guang
“Government officials are like bandits.”
On December 5, 2019, the Urban Management and Law Enforcement Bureau in the Weidong district of Pingdingshan, a prefecture-level city in the central province of Henan, dispatched more than 100 personnel and two large excavators to demolish Sigou Church, which has been designated as “illegal construction.” The congregation sang hymns, crying as they watched helplessly their spiritual home being torn down. One of them told Bitter Winter that the state had confiscated most of the church’s possessions before the demolition. What has been left, was buried under the debris of the demolished church.
“The church was short of funds to finish its construction, so we donated our money, as much as we could – some 10 RMB (about $ 1.4), others 5 RMB (about $ 0.7),” the believer continued. “An elder believer even donated the money she earned by selling her hair. Each day was a struggle since the start of the construction. I feel so miserable that the church was demolished, even seeing the rubble pains my heart. I keep my distance to avoid seeing it.”
In late November, a Three-Self church venue in Litan village, administered by Cisheng town in Henan’s Zhecheng county, was also destroyed. A church member told Bitter Winter that on the demolition day, police officers threw out all the items the believer guarding the church kept there and ordered the excavator to level the building. Officials even took away what has remained from the church, like windows and bricks, and sold them for their gain. The church was built with 400,000 RMB (about $ 57,000) donated by local Christians, but the government didn’t give any compensation.
“The government does what it wants, they are acting like bandits,” another congregation member commented.
Litan village church demolished on orders by the local government:
In Henan’s Yuanyang county-administered Dabin township, three officially-approved Protestant meeting venues were demolished in Shangwan, Dabin, and Feixin villages at the end of October.
“At the beginning of 2019, the government commanded us to rent out the church,” a churchgoer from Dabin village remembered. “We had no choice but to obey, wanting to protect the church. We were later told that renting was not enough, and the church was repurposed for a senior citizen’s activity center. Now they destroyed it, afraid that we will hold gatherings there. They just want to deprive us of our faith.”
“Believing in God means opposing the Communist Party.”
A Three-Self meeting venue was destroyed in Wangbukou village, administered by Shangqiu city’s Liangyuan district, on December 13, after its owner was ordered to remove everything from the building. “Believing in God means opposing the Communist Party,” lectured the officials before demolishing the church. “Chinese are not allowed to believe in a foreign God, and they must follow the Party’s leadership.”
According to a local believer, the venue was built over 20 years ago, with 50,000 RMB (about $ 7,000) of the owner’s money. Not only was he not compensated, but he was threatened to be arrested if he refused to demolish the building.
On the same day, another church was torn down in the Liangyuan district. “They tore apart the church so that people could no longer believe in Jesus or have a gathering,” a resident in Yangwa village, where the church was located, told Bitter Winter. “They just want everyone to believe in Xi Jinping, to listen to whatever he says.”
Church tricked into demolition
A Three-Self church in Jincheng, a prefecture-level city in the northern province of Shanxi, was built at the cost of 260,000 RMB (about $ 37,000) collected by believers. In 2017, the church was designated for relocation as part of the redevelopment plan. Two years later, the local government signed a relocation contract with the church, promising to assign land for a new place of worship.
In late March 2019, the church was razed to the ground. Anxious to ensure the speedy construction of the new church, the person in charge has been contacting the authorities, but with no luck, since bureaucrats have been passing the buck from one to the other, without providing any clear answers.
At the end of September, he learned that no concrete steps had been taken: no land had been approved for the construction of the church. With the old church demolished, the congregation is left without a place of worship.
“The government has been deceiving us from the start; they never wanted us to rebuild the church. This is an obvious suppression, and we have no way of finding justice,” a congregation member said in a sad voice.