Local governments have shut down hundreds of ‘house churches’ in past few months, with gatherings raided and congregants interrogated about their faith
In March, about a dozen police officers and local officials suddenly showed up at the church on his property and made the frightened congregants disperse. They ordered that the cross, a painting of the Last Supper and Bible verse calligraphy be taken down. And they demanded that all services stop until each person along with the church itself was registered with the government, said the shopkeeper, Guo, who gave his last name only from fear of retribution.
In Zhengzhou, Henan’s capital, all that is left of one house church is shattered glass, tangled wires and torn hymnbooks, strewn among the rubble of a knocked-down wall. Pegged to another wall is a single wooden cross, still intact.
The church inside a commercial building had served about 100 believers for years. But in late January, nearly 60 officials from the local religion department and police station appeared without warning. Armed with electric saws, they demolished the church, confiscated Bibles and computers and held a handful of young worshippers – including a 14-year-old girl – at a police station for more than 10 hours, according to a church leader.
The crackdown on Christianity is part of a broader push by Xi to “Sinicise” all the nation’s religions by infusing them with “Chinese characteristics” such as loyalty to the Communist Party. Over the last several months, local governments across the country have shut down hundreds of private Christian “house churches”. But this year they have taken a tougher approach that relies partly on “thought reform” – a phrase for political indoctrination. Last November, Christian residents of a rural township in eastern Jiangxi province were persuaded to replace posters of the cross and Jesus Christ inside their homes with portraits of Xi, a local official said.
“Through our thought reform, they’ve voluntarily done it,” Qi Yan, a member of the township party committee, said. “The move is aimed at Christian families in poverty, and we educated them to believe in science and not in superstition, making them believe in the party.”