As far as most of our readers go, probably the biggest story out of China this week was the demolition of the Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou.
The church first came to the attention of the world a few weeks back when The Telegraph reported that thousands of parishioners had surrounded the church in order to prevent its destruction. An agreement was supposedly worked out to save the church, but it obviously fell apart (perhaps it never existed) and on Monday morning police sealed off the area around the church and tore it down.
China accused of anti-Christian campaign as church demolition begins (April 28, 2014, The Telegraph)
Once again, The Telegraph was the first to report the church was, in fact, being torn down. The reporting began with Tweets from the Telegraph correspondent Tom Phillips, who eventually wrote the following story:
Demolition teams began destroying parts of a Chinese church that has become a symbol of resistance to the Communist Party's draconian clutch on religion, activists and witnesses said on Monday.
Sanjiang church in Wenzhou, a wealthy coastal city known as the "Jerusalem of the East", made headlines earlier this month when thousands of Christians formed a human shield around its entrance after plans for its demolition were announced.
Church members accused Communist leaders in Zhejiang province of ordering an anti-church crackdown and claimed there were plans to completely or partially demolish at least 10 places of worship.
Officials rejected those accusations, alleging the church had violated building codes.
After mounting their high-profile occupation in early April, many protesters withdrew from Sanjiang church after its leaders appeared to have negotiated a compromise with the government.
It's a heart-breaking story.
Beijing attacks claim China could become 'world's most Christian nation' (April 25, 2014, The Telegraph)
A second story (also from The Telegraph) that has gotten a lot of attention over the past couple of weeks is the one about a scholar's prediction that China may be on track to become the "world's most Christian nation."
That prediction apparently didn't sit well with the government, which used the English-language Global Times to push back on the idea. The Telegraph reported on this pushback:
The Communist Party has hit out at predictions in The Telegraph that China is on course to become the world's biggest Christian congregation, in a sign of Beijing's deep unease at the rapid spread of Christianity within its borders.
In a recent interview with the paper, Fenggang Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, said the number of Chinese Protestants could swell to around 160 million by 2025 with the total number of Christians exceeding 247 million by 2030.
That would see China move ahead of Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the world's biggest Christian community.
However, the prediction appears to have gone down badly in Communist Party circles, with many senior leaders fearing the impact an increasingly powerful church could have on their ability to stay in power.
Ye Xiaowen, who is a member of the party's powerful central committee, told state media such claims were "unscientific" and "obviously inflated".
Ye Xiaowen used to be the top religious affairs official in China, so it makes sense that he would upset by this prediction. If true, it means he failed miserably at his job.
A Guide to Social Class in Modern China (April 28, 2014, Tea Leaf Nation)
One of the great promises of the Chinese Communist Party when it came to power was to build a classless society in China. While the class distinctions that had existed prior to 1949 were certainly flattened out in the first thirty years of the People's Republic of China, the notion of class distinctions has not been banished from society. In fact, in the Reform Era, they have come roaring back, although they look different than they did in the past.
The online magazine Tea Leaf Nation published a fascinating article about an anonymous post that lays out Chinese class structure in the 21st century:
On the Chinese web, a popular (anonymous) post currently making the rounds offers a revealing dissection of China's current class structure, dividing society into nine tiers, describing the first three tiers as the "ruling class" and the bottom three as the "underclass." The division is based on political power and connection as much as wealth and prestige, reflecting the fact that the ruling Communist Party plays an extraordinarily large role in the distribution of social goods in China.
For anyone wanting a feel for what Chinese society actually looks like, this is a must-read.
Photos: Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Urban Farmers in Chongqing (May 1, 2014, China File)
Our final pick this week is a photo essay of the urban farmers of Chongqing. Here's the introduction:
Tim Franco, a Shanghai-based photographer, has spent time on these "micro-farms" in the heart of the megacity Chongqing, where the changes underway across the country appear especially stark. Some farmers grow food to feed their families, others to supplement their incomes, and some because, with the city closing in all around them, it's the only thing that makes them feel at home.
The pictures are amazing.
Image credit: Huffington Post