A draft of official regulations relating to religious structures in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang was publicly released this week, offering a glimpse into the means by which local authorities seek to curb religious expression.
According to the Associated Press, since early 2014, officials in Zhejiang have toppled crosses from some 400 churches deemed of be in violation of building codes. On some occasions, the actions have sparked altercations with local congregations.
The New York Times has more:
In painstaking detail, the 36-page directive sets out strict guidelines for where and how churches in Zhejiang can display crosses. They must be placed on the facades of buildings, not above them. They must be of a color that blends into the building, not one that stands out. And they must be small: no more than one-tenth the height of the building’s facade.
The rules put new legal force behind a continuing campaign in Zhejiang to remove crosses from the tops of churches, as the government works to hide the most visible sign of Christianity’s explosive growth in the province. Wenzhou, a coastal city in Zhejiang with more than nine million people, is often referred to as China’s Jerusalem because of its heavily Christian population and big churches.
As my colleague William Wan reported a few years ago, long-ingrained fears of foreign infiltration and imperialist plots underlie China's official wariness of religion. Christianity also poses an obvious challenge to a nominally atheist, authoritarian leadership that has a hard time accommodating a plurality of belief systems.
"To continue to forcefully remove and ban the cross on the rooftop of the church buildings demonstrates the Chinese regime’s determination to contain the rapid growth of Christianity in China," says Bob Fu of China Aid, a U.S. based Christian rights group.
And Christianity isn't only the religion worrying China's leaders.
In recent months, my colleague Simon Denyer has been following what some have characterized as Beijing's war on Islam. Out of supposed concern over extremist radicalization and counter-terrorism, Chinese authorities in the restive far western region of Xinjiang have clamped down on the cultural practices of the Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority.
Local authorities compelled Muslim shopkeepers to sell alcohol, even though it violates their own traditions. In one instance, a Muslim man was jailed for six years for refusing to shave off his beard.
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