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ICC Note:

Cross demolition campaign in Zhejiang Province continues and ICC has learned that over 200 church crosses have been torn down. According to the NYT, the implications for national religious policy in China remain unclear. However, “there is no evidence that the tearing down of crosses has reduced the number of people going to church.” Please continue to pray for Chinese churches.

09/03/2014 China (The New York Times)– Crosses continue to be torn down, churches bulldozed and shrines of folk religions destroyed in a campaign that began last winter in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang, but the implications for national religious policy in China remain unclear, a leading Protestant expert on religion in China said.

At least 150 crosses had been removed by early July, and many churches and local shrines have been pulled down by the provincial authorities, said Philip Wickeri, the adviser to the Anglican archbishop of Hong Kong for theological and historical studies. The provincial Communist Party secretary overseeing the policy, Xia Baolong, is an ally of President Xi Jinping, but there has not been any sign yet of similar campaigns in other provinces, Mr. Wickeri said.

The provincial authorities have said that they are only trying to remove structures that do not comply with local land use regulations, and they have denied that they are engaged in a campaign against religious institutions. But Mr. Wickeri dismissed this explanation, saying that the organized removal of crosses and demolition of places of worship, including in cases where church leaders had previously received local and provincial authorities’ consent, could only be seen in a religious context.

Some of the largest affected churches were directly under the auspices of the government-affiliated Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which rejects the authority of the Vatican, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which oversees Protestant groups.

The policy appears to be aimed at discouraging further increases in the influence of Christianity in Zhejiang, the province in China believed to have the highest percentage of Christians, Mr. Wickeri said in a speech on Monday at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong. Various forms of Protestantism have been spreading quickly in many provinces in recent years, with estimates of Protestants in China now ranging from 40 million to 60 million, in addition to 10 million to 15 million Catholics.

“Even in Zhejiang, there is no evidence that the tearing down of crosses has reduced the number of people going to church,” said Mr. Wickeri, who worked in the 1980s and 1990s in the adjacent province of Jiangsu as the international coordinator for the Amity Foundation, a Chinese Christian social service group. Until this year, Zhejiang had a reputation for religious tolerance.

There has been no clear signal yet of whether what is happening in Zhejiang is a provincial-level experiment that might later lead to broader implementation elsewhere, Mr. Wickeri said.

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