The number of churches targeted for demolition in the Chinese province of Zhejiang has reached 1,500 in just two years, according to ucanews.com.
After claiming 2014 to be the worst year for religious persecution in China since the Cultural Revolution, observers in and outside the country say this year saw the situation deteriorate further in 2015. Relations between China’s religious groups and the Communist Party have not been this strained since the days of Chairman Mao.
In Tibetan monasteries, monks and nuns complained the Communist Party is interfering more in daily life than it has for years. In Xinjiang, burqas were banned; so too was “terrorist clothing.”
“Authorities have lost the hearts of the people after the cross-removal campaign,” said a former Catholic journalist in Zhejiang who gave only her Christian name, Clare.
Although authorities succeeded in forcing churches to display less-conspicuous crosses in Zhejiang, few doubt the provincial government’s campaign has achieved anything except harden Christian resolve, let alone curb an appetite for evangelism.
“It helped unite all the clergy to fight for their rights,” said John, a catechist in Wenzhou.
As the cross-removal campaign reached a crescendo midyear, ordinary Christians and priests took to social media to announce a campaign making mini-crosses, and bishops took the rare step of publicly denouncing authorities.
With the campaign winding down in Zhejiang, Christians say they now face something even worse: the cross-removal campaign was all about controlling the church facades, but in recent weeks authorities have interfered inside churches.
In Wenzhou, Christians reported state officials attending church on Sundays to silence critical voices. In other areas of Zhejiang, authorities put up propaganda notices on church pin-boards, according to state media. This is all part of a new campaign called “five entries and transformations,” which aims to make churches more Chinese — and by default less foreign — while picking and choosing Bible verses that correlate to party doctrine.
Ucanews.com reported that some estimates put the number of Christians in China at more than 100 million, and the Communist Party is attempting to co-opt Christianity to its own political ends. But it remains unclear whether its policy comes from the very centre of the party, and therefore whether it will endure, said Fenggang Yang, director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
High-ranking party officials appear to disagree about whether Christianity should adapt to China, or the other way round, he added, and a firm direction won’t be made until a delayed religious meeting led by President Xi Jinping takes place.
Fenggang told ucanews.com the fact that the meeting had been postponed multiple times “is a sign of Xi’s dissatisfaction with the work and direction of religious affairs, and probably a sign of an impasse of internal debates and disagreements.”
Whatever happens, few Chinese Christians appear hopeful of a reprieve from Xi’s strict, rule-of-law handling of the communist government in 2016. On China’s periphery, minority Tibetan Buddhists and ethnic Uighur Muslims appear even less optimistic.
This year started with an official ban on burqas in Xinjiang, then in May Beijing extended what is in effect a state of emergency following a series of attacks.
Stricter measures have seen the first mass trials in China in 20 years and thousands of additional troops deployed in cities, including Urumqi.
Alarmed by a series of attacks blamed on Uighurs and recent violence overseas by the Islamic State group, which released its first call to arms in Mandarin in December, the Chinese government has pushed ahead with drafting a new, controversial anti-terror law.