Hangzhou (AsiaNews) – Zhejiang police successfully removed the cross that towered over the Panshi (Rock) Church in Hangzhou, the provincial capital.
The building, which is new, belongs to the Three-self Patriotic Movement. It was built with all the required permits and was inaugurated in September 2012.
The operation of removing the cross began at midnight last Saturday and ended at 7 am. It is part of an ongoing campaign, led by the local Communist party chief, aimed at crosses and churches in Zhejiang province. So far, 425 churches have been affected.
Members of the Panshi congregation tried in vain to stop police. Their pastor, Rev Hu Yuanquan had asked the staff to offer "no collaboration, no obedience, no violence". After a night praying, the faithful watched, helpless as the cross was removed (pictured).
In order to get inside the building, police broke down its doors. During the removal, it cordoned off the area, to prevent the faithful from coming near the building. Once the cross was removed, it was loaded onto a lorry and taken away at about 8 am.
The anti-cross campaign is called ‘Three Rectifications and One Demolition’ and is part of a plan to tear down all illegal buildings in Zhejiang.
Authorities claim that are not targeting religious buildings, and yet, Christian buildings have suffered the brunt of the campaign, even those built with all required permits and already approved by the authorities.
The Panshi Church in fact belongs to the Hangzhou Three-self Patriotic Movement Committee (which includes China’s Protestant groups), and is located in the city’s Xiasha District.
Fu Xianwei, the president of National Committee of Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and local government officials attended the church’s inauguration ceremony in 2012.
At that time, the local paper, the Hangzhou Daily, had published a glowing review of the church.
Calling the structure, "delicate in shape, beautiful in design, complete in religious functions", the paper wrote, "from project approval, preparation and establishment to construction, [. . .] relevant officials of municipal party committee and government have attached importance and offered support to Xiasha Panshi Church”.
"The completion of this church,” the paper went on to say, “will not only satisfy the demand of local and migrants' religious demand, stimulate the enthusiasm in social and economic construction, but will also be the window for exchange with the outside, serving economic development and cultural exchange.”
The campaign against the crosses and churches began in 2014 under Xia Baolong, Zhejiang party secretary who noted that the skyline in Wenzhou, one of the province’s cities, had "too many crosses."
Christians believe that the real reason is that the authorities want to reduce the impact and influence of Christian communities, both official and underground, in Chinese society, because of a recent jump in conversions.
Last May, Zhejiang authorities issued a draft proposal with regulations for religious buildings. In it, it lays down the terms for colour, size and location of crosses.
Crosses on steeples are no longer allowed; the Christian symbol instead would have to be inserted into the walls of the building. Its colour may not stand out, and its length should not exceed one-tenth of the building.
Several Christian leaders in Zhejiang have criticised this proposal, whose final version and details the government has not yet released.
Meanwhile, another church in Jinhua is getting ready to have its own cross torn down tomorrow. The decision was verbally relayed to the congregation; however, no formal confirmation has been issued.
Even in this case, the faithful note that the church has all the necessary papers to show that it was built with government authorisation.