This story is over 5 years old.


Chinese Church Leaders Are Detained Amid Cross Demolition Campaign

The group's lawyer says they're being punished for refusing to take down their church's cross. It's believed the Chinese government has ordered the removal of all church crosses in Zhejiang province.
El líder Tu Shouzhe permanece en el tejado de una iglesia protestante después de que trabajadores del gobierno chino quitasen la cruz del edificio. Imagen por Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Seven Christians have been detained in the southeastern Chinese province of Zhejiang accused of embezzlement, amid a state-ordered campaign to remove crosses from churches.

Pastor Bao Guohua, his wife Xing Wenxiang, and five church employees have been accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of yuan in funds from the Holy Love Christian Church and of "distorting the truth to incite social unrest," according to local media reported by the BBC.


Bao and Xing were taken by police two weeks ago and have not been able to meet with their lawyers, reported Reuters. A police statement titled "Honest pastors' greedy lives" claimed to have found more than 20 pieces of jewelry and wads of cash at the pair's home.

The church's lawyer Chen Jiangang, who called the statement a smear campaign, told the BBC that the group were in fact being punished for refusing to take down their church cross when ordered to by a local official in June.

"I can tell you that if church leaders had agreed to take down the cross, there would have been no problem," he said. "But they refused. That's why they were detained."

Christians say authorities in Zhejiang have been removing and destroying church crosses since last year. Provincial authorities are now believed to be under a two-month deadline to remove all crosses from the spires, vaults, roofs, and wall arches of the 4,000 or so churches that dot the landscape of this economically thriving region.

Related: Tiger Chairs, Electric Batons, and Chili Oil: Report Finds Chinese Police Are Still Torturing Suspects

The campaign is believed to be the will of President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, whose administration has launched the most severe crackdown in decades on social forces that might challenge the monopoly of the party's rule.

Yang Fenggang, an expert on China's religions at Purdue University, said the campaign to assert state power over officially sanctioned churches had been ordered by the central government and was likely being carried out as a kind of experiment in Zhejiang, where the provincial party chief, Xia Baolong, is a trusted ally of Xi.


The massive campaign comes one year after the provincial leadership ordered the razing of several churches and hundreds of rooftop crosses deemed to be illegal structures. This summer, Zhejiang banned rooftop crosses altogether. Despite criticism that the new rule violates China's constitutional right to religious freedom, local enforcers are sending demolition crews to virtually all the province's churches.

They have met with resistance. Parishioners have kept vigils and tried to block entrances to church grounds with cargo trucks, and many churches have re-erected crosses in defiance.

In a rare move, even China's semi-official Christian associations — which are supposed to ensure the ruling Communist Party's control over Protestant and Catholic groups — have denounced the campaign as unconstitutional and humiliating. They have warned that it could risk turning the faithful into enemies of the party.

Related: Hong Kong Defies China and Votes Against Beijing-Backed 'Sham Democracy'

In targeting Christians, the party is going after a group possibly bigger than itself. Yang said Christians probably numbered close to 100 million after more than three decades of rapid growth, though official figures are much lower. The Communist Party has nearly 88 million members.

The party tried to wipe out religion altogether during the ideological fervor of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, but later restored the right to worship. However tight control is still maintained over all religious groups.

Since Xi came into power in late 2012, Beijing has hushed voices critical of its policies and practices in China's social media, locked up members of the New Citizens Movement who had called for greater government accountability, and, most recently, rounded up rights lawyers who insist China's law must be followed to the letter and applied equally to the people and the state.

"The authorities are especially worried that those with religious beliefs have a strong sense of identity and belonging, which can translate into huge social forces," said Zhao Chu, an independent commentator.

Related: China Arrested More Than 100 Lawyers to 'Smash a Major Criminal Gang'

The Associated Press contributed to this report.