As rain brought by Tropical Storm Matmo poured down around them on Thursday, several dozen Christians, weary after a bloody confrontation with the police earlier in the week, stood guard at Salvation Church in Wenzhou, determined that the authorities would not take down their cross.
The standoff at Salvation Church is just the latest incident in the eastern city sometimes dubbed “China’s Jerusalem” for its many churches, as the local authorities have pressed forward with a campaign of “regulating religious sites and activities.” In recent months, according to ChinaAid, a Christian organization based in the United States, scores of churches in Zhejiang Province, where Wenzhou is located, have lost crosses, been demolished or received demolition notices. Although officials have often cited violations of zoning regulations, an internal provincial policy statement indicates that the campaign is aimed specifically at Christian institutions and symbols. The statement says to remove crosses, first those by highways, then “over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.”
In April, the landmark Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou was torn down, despite protests from thousands of local Christians. In June, Salvation and about two dozen other Protestant churches received notices from the county government to remove their crosses. Since then, local Christians have resisted and taken turns guarding their churches.