A Communist party campaign during which crosses have been stripped from the roofs of more than 1,200 Chinese churches is being conducted “for the sake of safety and beauty”, a government official has claimed.
Human rights activists accuse authorities in Zhejiang province in eastern China of using the protracted campaign to slow Christianity’s growth in what is one of the country’s most churchgoing regions.
By some estimates, China is nowhome to 100 million Christians, compared with the Communist party’s 88 million members.
Since the government campaign began in late 2013, hundreds of places of worship have had bright red crosses removed. Some churches have been completely demolished, while civil servants have been banned from practising religion. Some observers suspect the campaign has the backing of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and could be a “pilot project” before a nationwide crackdown
In fact, there is growing anger among China’s rapidly growing Christian community over the campaign, which has affected both Catholic and Protestant congregations. Last Friday, a group of Catholic clergy – including an 89-year-old bishop – took to the streets to protest. “What they are doing feels like something from the Cultural Revolution era,” complained one religious leader from Zhejiang.
This week, Catholic leaders in Wenzhou, a city known as China’s Jerusalem because of its large Christian population, circulated an open letter claiming the removals had got “completely out of control”.
“Our diocese has been patient and reasonable – again and again we have shown tolerance, prayed, communicated and observed, hoping that the haze would clear,” it said. “But they have not stopped. Rather, they have escalated the campaign and have rushed to attack the cross, the symbol of peace and love.”
Addressing China’s Christian population, the letter concluded: “Let us speak out.”
Removals and demolitions have gathered pace in recent weeks despite such protests. A five-storey church in the city of Wenling was demolished “voluntarily”, the government-controlled Zhejiang Daily newspaper announced on Sunday. The newspaper claimed the church had expanded without going through the proper approval process. “It not only affected city planning but also posed a severe threat to road safety,” the report said.
The “anti-church” campaign took an unusual turn this week after claims that officials had deployed groups of incense-burning Buddhist monks to “provoke” Christians who were trying to defend their cross.
“We are Protestant Christians, so by sending monks to chant sutras they were trying to get us riled up,” a member of one Zhejiang church told Radio Free Asia, a US-funded news website.
The Christian added: “They were trying to make us angry so that we would retaliate against them. They think that anyone who opposes the government is a traitor, or someone trying to overturn the Communist party.”
Is it safe to walk the streets of London in 2015 as an easily identifiable Jew? New data released Thursday would indicate that some British Jews may begin mulling whether they should remove their skull caps or pendants before leaving the house.
Britain’s anti-Semitism figures are up by a staggering 53 percent for the first six months of 2015. But the Community Security Trust (CST), which has collated the statistics, says the rise is due to an increase in reporting of incidents, rather than an increase in anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom.
CST says that the increase in anti-Semitic incidents was most pronounced during the first three months of the year, in the wake of the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen.
CST classifies anti-Semitic incidents according to six categories: extreme violence; assault; damage and desecration to Jewish property; threats; abusive behavior; and anti-Semitic literature.
There were 178 anti-Semitic incidents reported to CST in the first six months of 2015 in which the victims were random Jewish individuals in public. In at least 66 of these incidents the victims were visibly Jewish, due to religious or traditional clothing, Jewish school uniforms, or jewellery bearing religious symbols.
Threats and abusive behavior accounted for 389 separate incidents between January and June 2015, including direct, face-to-face verbal abuse, anti-Semitic graffiti, social media threats and one-off hate mail. Five more incidents related to mass produced or mass-emailed anti-Semitic literature.
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