Churches in Zhejiang Province in China have been ordered to display new signs declaring their love for the Communist party, as well as for China and for religion. It is the latest in a series of rules and restrictions facing Christians in the country.
Churches in Zhejiang Province in eastern China have been given a new rule: all religious venues have to display signs saying “Love the Communist Party, love the country, and love the religion.” These signs must be installed at the entrances to churches and other religious buildings, alongside one saying “Adhere to the Sinicisation of all religions.” (‘Sinicisation’ means ‘making Chinese’ – which the current authorities in China use to mean adhering to their policies.)
This instruction has been made by the province’s Religious Affairs Bureau, and is believed to be a ‘test case’ before potential roll-out in other areas of the country.
Li*, a local Open Doors contact, expresses concern about the move: “Some believers might get more confused whether they are going to a church or to a government property. Church leaders might also face a greater degree of interference by the authorities, especially in the church’s decision-making.”
"More 'illegal' religious venues will continue to be cracked down upon" Li
There is already a great deal of government intervention in the official Three Self Patriot Movement, the only Christian church sanctioned (and heavily monitored) by the Chinese authorities. CCTV cameras are routinely installed in church buildings, and ministers have to submit their sermons for approval and editing every week. This new rule in Zhejiang Province is further evidence of a clamping-down on freedoms for Christians.
Outside of the Three Self Patriot Movement, churches are illegal. Believers who meet in house churches (often to avoid this level of surveillance) face raids and arrests, and the government gives incentives for people to inform on such groups. “More ‘illegal’ religious venues will continue to be cracked down upon,” warns Li.
As one example – Xiao Ai* was hosting a church gathering at her home when government officials barged in and arrested her. She spent two weeks in prison, and she chose to faithfully commit the time to prayer. “I was so extremely exhausted that my eyelids got so heavy,” she recalls. “But this was an excellent opportunity to practise praying. When everyone else was sleeping, I prayed hard!”
Due to increasing surveillance and restrictions, many house churches have stopped meeting in larger groups and have split into smaller groups. Others used to meet online, but this has become more difficult as Chinese authorities pay closer attention to online activities – and measures introduced last year have prohibited sharing Christian content online without a licence. Buying a Bible online is also illegal.
The Chinese authorities’ surveillance is very sophisticated, both in the physical world and online. China is currently number 16 on the World Watch List – a few years ago it was number 43. Tightening restrictions are among the main reasons for this rapid rise on the list of countries where Christians face the most persecution.
Previous to this latest demand in Zhejiang Province, religious venues have already been required to put up posters that clearly state the 12 Core Socialist Values, which are written in 24 Chinese characters: ‘prosperity’, ‘democracy’, ‘civility’ and ‘harmony’; the social values of ‘freedom’, ‘equality’, ‘justice’ and the ‘rule of law; and the individual values of ‘patriotism’, ‘dedication’, ‘integrity’ and ‘friendship’. Besides this, it is mandatory for religious entities to raise the national flag outside the venues. It is clearly seen as the will and determination of the Party to promote patriotism to their people and to remove any Western element that is perceived as a threatening influence.
“It’s now wait-and-see,” shares Yuhua*, a local Open Doors researcher. “We will observe more about what will happen in the coming days and discern our next steps.”
*Names changed for security reasons.
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