Christians in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province have launched a cross making and wearing campaign amid a year-long “clean-up movement” by the local government to remove exterior church crosses.
A Christian based in Wenzhou uploaded pictures on the social media platform Weibo showing people making crosses out of wood and painting them red in what appeared to be a small workshop.
Zhejiang Christian churches urged believers to hang crosses up at home and wear them, a message posted by the Weibo user along with the pictures said, adding “Let the cross take a root in everyone’s heart”.
On the same day, Father Chen Kaihua posted a similar message on Weibo calling on churches in other parts of the country to “join the relay” in the “safe and legal non-violent disobedience movement.”
“Tomorrow you will see crosses everywhere in Zhejiang,” Father Chen, who is teaching at the Sichuan Catholic Seminary, said on Weibo.
The campaign is part of a backlash against the Zhejiang government’s continuous removal of exterior church crosses on the grounds that they are illegal building structures and pose safety hazards. Officials have been taking down crosses from churches since 2014. According to the Gospel Herald, an online Christian newspaper, over 1,200 church crosses have been taken down in the past a year and a half in Zhejiang.
Maya Wang, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the cross removing campaign is part of the Chinese government’s unprecedented attack on civil society.
“The government has always been suspicious about religions — it tightly controls religious beliefs and expressions and Chinese people can only believe in five official religious. But it’s important to point out that many of the churches with crosses removed by the government are official churches recognised by the government. The fact that these churches are now under renewed official scrutiny is a sign that authorities’ already-low tolerance for religious activities has fallen to a new low under President Xi,” Wang said.
In May, pictures emerged on the internet showing a cross on top of the Huzhen Church in Lishui City on fire as it was being removed. Officials denied they intended to burn the cross, saying it caught fire by itself.
On Friday Bishop Zhu Weifang of Wenzhou Diocese led a group of priests in a protest against church cross demolitions in front of the Wenzhou government, calling on the government to “safeguard religious dignity.”
In Hong Kong, about a dozen Christians marched to Beijing’s liaison office in Sai Wan on Sunday to protest about the church cross removal campaign.