Provincial authorities ordered to eradicate crosses “no matter what,” and in four months, many state-run Protestant churches were left without them.
From January to April, crosses were removed from at least 250 Three-Self churches in Lu’an, Ma’anshan, Huaibei, and other cities in the eastern province of Anhui. A local believer revealed that in November and December last year, crosses were removed from 22 Three-Self churches in Bozhou, Huaibei, and two other cities.
“All Christian symbols are ordered to be removed as part of the government’s crackdown campaign,” a state employee from Ma’anshan city told Bitter Winter.
The Gulou Church in the center of Anhui’s Fuyang city is a state-run Protestant church with a history of 124 years. On April 1, ten officials from the city’s Religious Affairs Bureau, Public Security Bureau, and other government departments came to the church to oversee the removal of its cross. They were blocked by over 100 congregation members, who had been attempting to prevent the cross demolition for eight hours. After hours of pressuring the church’s director, the cross was removed at 5 a.m. the next day.
A congregation member told Bitter Winter that local officials claimed that the cross-removal campaign was being implemented in line with a national policy, which requires to eliminate all Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, and other religious symbols. Such orders are being passed down from one government level to another, and every cross in Anhui will be eradicated eventually, the believer added.
“We support the state and comply with its regulations,” the congregation member continued. “We can have a dialogue with the government if it thinks that we have done something wrong, but they can’t persecute us this way. Officials did not show any documents, fearing that people would implicate them with anything in writing. They only conveyed verbal orders and forced us to obey them.”
In April, the government forcibly removed crosses from two Protestant churches with a history of over 100 years in Hefei, the capital of the province.
According to an elder from a Three-Self church in Ma’anshan’ Hanshan county, the city government convened two conferences earlier this year to discuss central government’s orders to remove crosses using a variety of pretexts: for being too tall, too large, too wide, or too eye-catching. The provincial government publicly criticized the Ma’anshan city authorities for not removing crosses rapidly enough.
In mid-April, officials from the county’s United Front Work Department and other government institutions removed crosses from all the 33 Three-Self churches in the county. As the cross of the largest church in the county was being removed, believers attempted to save it. Still, the demolition proceeded as planned because local officials feared repercussions from higher authorities for disobeying their orders.
“The fact that all church crosses in the county have been taken off makes us very sad because the cross if the primary symbol of our faith,” the elder from Hanshan county added. “But we don’t dare to disobey central government orders: little fish don’t eat big fish.”
In Lu’an, a prefecture-level city in Anhui with a relatively large Christians population, crosses were removed from 183 churches in the first four months of the year. On March 14, officials from the city’s Huoqiu county government ordered the director of the Three-Self Garden Church to remove its cross, claiming that it might fall and injure people. The director refused initially, but officials threatened to imprison her and shut down the church.
A congregation member told Bitter Winter that local government officials declared at the end of last year that because of the animosity between the United States and, the government fears that Christians, whose number is growing in China, will “unite with foreigners against the state.”
“As crosses are being removed throughout the country, those who refuse to cooperate will be accused of opposing the Communist Party,” the Christian added. “We are pressured to give up our faith, but we will persevere.”
Video: On April 10, workers removed the cross from a church in Lu’an-administered Shu county.