Since Chinese government agencies have started to remove crosses from churches – officially for security reasons – the resistance, and government backlash, has been growing. Focus is in Zhejiang province. Journalist Ian Johnson toured experts and made an update for the New York Times.
The question many ask is whether the campaign against crosses has the backing of China’s top leader, President Xi Jinping, and whether it will therefore spread. Carsten Vala, a political scientist at Loyola University in Maryland, said the government drive fit into the overall context of a crackdown on civil liberties that has increased since Mr. Xi took power in 2012.
“Along with the other limits on all of civil society, it’s in line with the newXi Jinping approach,” Professor Vala said.
Mr. Xi was the head of Zhejiang, and the current party secretary there served under him. Other provinces with big Christian populations have not begun similar crackdowns.
Fan Yafeng, director of an independent research organization in Beijing that studies Christianity, said other provincial leaders were watching Zhejiang. If it appeared politically costly to remove the crosses, they might not follow suit, he said.
“But as Zhejiang’s removal of the cross campaign escalates, it has also triggered unprecedented backlash,” Mr. Fan said. The strong response from Christians had exceeded the government’s expectation, he said.
Last year, numerous protests seemed to cause the government to back down. The number of cross removals slowed. Then in May, the Zhejiang provincial government declared that churches could not have free-standing crosses atop spires. In a 36-page set of directives, the government said crosses had to be set into the facade of the church, and could be no more than 10 percent of the building’s height.
There were some indications over the weekend that the campaign might be slowing, with members of a congregation in Cangnan County south of Wenzhou saying their parish had received a notice that the campaign would stop.
Some people attributed this to the upcoming military parades for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Others noted that the campaign had also slowed last year. One church member said that now that the government has set a benchmark — no free-standing spires — it would slowly grind on until all the spires in Zhejiang were removed.
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