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Is the Church Demolition Campaign Coming to an End?

It was just about one year ago that, while scrolling through my Twitter feed late one night, I spotted something about Christians in Zhejiang trying to prevent the demolition of their church building.

The next day (April 4, 2014) Tom Phillips of The Telegraph wrote one of the first articles describing the scene:

Thousands of Chinese Christians have mounted an extraordinary, round-the-clock defence of a church in a city known as the 'Jerusalem of the East' after Communist Party officials threatened to bulldoze their place of worship.

In an episode that underlines the fierce and long-standing friction between China's officially atheist Communist Party and its rapidly growing Christian congregation, Bible-carrying believers this week flocked to the Sanjiang church in Wenzhou hoping to protect it from the bulldozers.

Their 24-hour guard began earlier this week when a demolition notice was plastered onto the newly-constructed church which worshippers say cost around 30 million yuan (£2.91 million) and almost six years to build.

Officials claimed the church had been built illegally and used red paint to daub the words: "Demolish" and "Illegal construction" onto its towering facade.

The threat triggered a furious reaction in Wenzhou, a booming port city known for its vibrant Christian community, said to be China's largest.

On April 28, the standoff between parishioners and the local government ended, and the church was demolished. It was followed by a year-long campaign to remove crosses and demolish “illegally-built” churches around the province of Zhejiang.

While many claimed that this was part of a nationwide anti-Christianity campaign, no evidence emerged that the campaign was going on around the country.

Last Friday (March 20, 2015), Tom Phillips reported in The Telegraph that an order has gone out from Beijing to Zhejiang ordering an end to the campaign:

Beijing has ordered an end to an "anti-church" demolition campaign that has infuriated China's fast-growing Christian population and drawn international condemnation, a Chinese bishop has claimed.

At least 400 churches in the eastern province of Zhejiang have faced partial or total demolitions since authorities began the campaign early last year, according to activists.

However, Bishop Paul Meng Qinglu, the deputy chairman of the Communist Party-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said Beijing had now issued an "internal order" calling for an end to the demolition of churches and their crosses.

If the order has, in fact, been given, then it would be confirmation of what Phillips said has been an easing of the campaign:

Before the bishop's claims this week, there had been hints that the campaign was easing.

The number of demolitions fell to just four in December, according to a timeline produced by the Christian Solidarity Worldwide group. The last took place on December 28, when officials removed the cross from a church in the city of Taizhou.

Three Christians who had opposed the demolitions were released earlier this month after spending a total of 255 days in police detention, according to China Aid, another Christian activist group.

In the year that this campaign in Zhejiang has been going on, an ocean of ink (or should I say pixels) has been consumed in writing about this. Was it a nation-wide crackdown? Did Beijing order it, or were they just tolerating it? Why were they going after Three Self Churches? Truth be told, those outside of the inner circle of Party politics in China have no idea.

And if it is truly coming to and end now, then we are still left scratching our heads and wondering “what was that all about?”

Image Credit: The Telegraph

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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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