After a series of church demolitions and cross removals in Zhejiang Province over the past two years, officials have been accused of engaging in a regional crackdown on Christianity. While a leaked document last May revealed the regulation of “overly popular” forms of worship to be a provincial policy goal, local authorities have denied allegations of a campaign against Christianity in a region where the religion has a long history, and where it has recently seen rapid spread. The New York Times reports on a provincial draft regulation issuing guidelines that crosses must be displayed inconspicuously, and indicating that prominent crosses will likely continue to face removal:
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.
[…] Christianity, which was strictly controlled in China during the first decades of Communist rule, began to flourish after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, as the officially atheist party relaxed its grip on society. Some estimates now put the number of Chinese faithful at more than 100 million, far more than when foreign missionaries and priests were expelled after the Communist takeover in 1949. Many churches are sanctioned by the government, but others operate outside the official sphere.
But since President Xi Jinping rose to the top party and government posts starting in 2012, there has been a new focus on reining in foreign influences that are seen as threatening the party’s grip on power.
[…] The new draft regulation goes into great detail about the architectural limitations to be placed on Zhejiang churches — detail that sometimes recall, presumably unintentionally, the directives found in the Old Testament for building tabernacles and temples. [… [Source]
Last month pastor Huang Yizi, detained last August after defending crosses in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, was sentenced to one year in prison. The razing of churches and removal of crosses in Zhejiang has come as the Xi administration is engaged in campaigns to control minority religions, to counter “Western influence,” and to reinforce ideological orthodoxy across the Party and society at large, but no explicit central policy on Zhejiang churches has yet been revealed. (Beijing has, however, announced plans to “continue developing a Christian theology compatible with the country’s path of socialism.” Also last month, it was reported that Beijing issued an “internal edict” calling for church and cross demolitions to end.)
For an in-depth overview of the rise of, and policy reaction to, Christianity in the PRC, see a backgrounder from the Council on Foreign Relations.