In the first half of 2020, over 900 crosses were removed from state-run churches across China amid Xi Jinping’s ongoing crackdown on places of worship, according to the Italian-based magazine Bitter Winter.
According to the religious liberty magazine, crosses were removed from over 250 state-run Three-Self churches in the eastern province of Anhui, which has the second-largest Christian population in China, in the first four months of the year. Additionally, 656 state-run Protestant churches in the province saw their crosses removed during the first half of this year.
A Three-Self church in the city’s Yingdong district, which lost its cross in April, was told by authorities that the cross-demolition campaign was part of national policy.
“If a church refuses to remove its cross, congregation members may lose their social benefits, like pensions and poverty-alleviation subsidies, and possibilities for their children’s future employment will be affected,” a church member explained.
United Front Work Department officials who removed the cross from a church in Hanshan county informed church congregants that any crosses taller than government buildings “must be demolished because they overshadow state institutions,” a church member told Bitter Winter.
“Only churches that look like enterprises are considered legal. To ‘sinicize’ Christianity, Xi Jinping does not allow churches to have Western crosses.”
The believer also revealed that government officials warned an elder in the church that “protesting cross demolitions means protesting against the government.”
“I feel sad thinking that all crosses in our church have been demolished,” the believer added. “Even though it is a symbol of our faith, who dares to disobey the central government order?”
On several occasions, Christians who attempted to stop cross removals were injured by authorities or detained.
In May, the government of Ma’anshan-administered Dangtu county removed crosses from the Lingyunshan Christian Church using three large cranes.
Hundreds of police officers “cordoned off the church, forbidding vehicles or pedestrians from approaching, and then stormed into the church having cut off an iron chain lock,” a local believer told the outlet, adding that an elderly believer who stepped forward to stop the demolition had her hands injured.
Bob Fu of China Aid, a U.S. based Christian rights group, previously explained that China’s cross removal campaign — which began in 2013 — “demonstrates the Chinese regime’s determination to contain the rapid growth of Christianity in China.”
China’s crackdown on religion and religious minorities has been widely condemned by international actors such as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, rights groups, and the U.S. State Department.
In its 2020 annual report, USCIRF noted that not only have authorities removed crosses from churches across the nation, but they have also banned youth younger than 18 from participating in religious services and replaced images of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary with pictures of President Xi.
China has also been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for “continuing to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
In a recent webinar on China’s rising threat to human rights, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the Chinese Communist Party is “counting on” the fact that the world will be “bullied and intimidated into silence” because of China’s power and wealth.
He explained that the Chinese government wants to make itself god, which is why it targets religious groups including Christians, Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners, and any religious minority that would say there is an allegiance higher than the state itself.
“This attempt to even rewrite the scriptures and holy texts of these various religions in order to see to it that China is ultimate,” he said. “But as Christians, we of course know that God is ultimate, God is greater than any would-be Caesar. And we know that the image of God does not belong to any would-be Caesar, it belongs to God.”
China ranks as the 23rd-worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.