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It’s about the Space

Kudos to Ian Johnson for getting his hands on an official document that helps explain the Sanjiang Church Demolition Incident. In what is arguably the most comprehensive reporting on the incident, he writes in The New York Times that “an internal government document reviewed by The New York Times makes it clear the demolitions are part of a strategy to reduce Christianity’s public profile.”

The nine-page provincial policy statement says the government aims to regulate “excessive religious sites” and “overly popular” religious activities, but it specifies only one religion, Christianity, and one symbol, crosses.

“The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways,” the document says. “Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.”

Please read the entire article here.

In addition to the article, the New York Times has also posted a short video, narrated by Johnson, and produced by Jonah Kessel called “China Chafes at Christianity’s Growth.”

The conclusion of Johnson is that the Sanjiang Church Incident is primarily about the space that religion can (and cannot) occupy in Chinese society.

Here is a summary of the points Johnson makes in the video

  1. There is a religious revival going on in China.
  2. The Sanjiang Church was not the symbol that local officials wanted for their newly developed central business district.
  3. Traditional religions (Buddhism, Daoism, folk religions) are supported and encouraged by the government. “If you have to be religious, it’s better to be in a traditional Chinese religion.”
  4. The government is uncomfortable with the space religion is starting to take in society. They see it as an ideological opponent.
  5. This is not an anti-Christian campaign to tear down hundreds of churches across China.
  6. It is a “shot across the bow” against Protestant Christianity that the government is watching and will take measure when it feels threatened.

In other words, what is happening in Wenzhou is a reminder that, while the space for Christianity and religious belief IS expanding in China, it is still the government that has the power to determine the limits of that space. And every once in awhile it needs to give a visible demonstration of that power.

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource 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 of Northwestern-St. Paul …View Full Bio

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