Officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forcibly removed more than 900 crosses from Christian churches in the eastern province of Anhui during the first half of 2020, Bitter Winter reported Friday.
In June, it was reported that authorities had already removed crosses from over 250 state-controlled Three-Self churches in the Anhui province during the first four months of the year. Updated information reveals that officials eliminated crosses from an additional 656 Christian churches in the province over the first half of this year, bringing the total to over 900.
Anhui has the second-largest Christian population in China, and local authorities there have zealously sought to implement Beijing’s order to eliminate crosses from church buildings, threatening sanctions to those who fail to comply.
“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,” explained one member of a Three-Self church in the Yingdong district of Fuyang.
The cross-removal campaign is part of secretary Xi Jinping’s broader Sinicization program aimed at ridding China of western symbols and values, including those of Christianity.
“United Front Work Department officials said that all crosses taller than government buildings must be demolished because they overshadow state institutions,” said a member of the Hancheng Church in Hanshan county. “Only churches that look like enterprises are considered legal. To ‘sinicize’ Christianity, Xi Jinping does not allow churches to have Western crosses.”
Government officials have warned that “protesting cross demolitions means protesting against the government,” Bitter Winter noted, citing a local Christian. “Even though it is a symbol of our faith, who dares to disobey the central government order?”
Officials often carry out the demolition of crosses in the middle of the night to minimize resistance from the faithful. On certain occasions, demolition teams have been accompanied by hundreds of police officers to quell protests.
As part of its ongoing Sinicization program, CCP authorities have threatened poor Christian villagers with the loss of their welfare benefits unless they remove Christian images from their homes and replace them with portraits of Chairman Mao Zedong and President Xi Jinping.
In so doing, the CCP has sought to channel religious fervor in the country toward the Party rather than God.
Last May, an official in the eastern province of Shandong raided the home of a local Christian and hung pictures of Mao and Xi Jinping on the wall in place of Christian images.
“These are the greatest gods. If you want to worship somebody, they are the ones,” the official told them.