Amid a crackdown on religion in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, hundreds of Chinese police removed a cross from the steeple of a church in the coastal region on Monday, reports the Associated Press.
The police apparently told the Longgang Huai En Church that its 10-foot-tall red cross exceeded building height limits and thus used a crane to remove the cross. Parishioners of the church gathered together and wept as they watched the scene.
Longgang Huai En Church is located in the eastern city of Wenzhou, which has taken on the moniker “China’s Jerusalem” because it boasts numerous houses of worship in a region where Christianity is flourishing. Cao Nanlai, an anthropologist who has studied and written a book about Christianity in Wenzhou, notes that the city has the highest proportion of Protestant Christians — 10 percent of residents — of any major Chinese city.
However, practicing Christianity in the Zhejiang province has become increasingly difficult. Authorities have toppled or threatened to topple crosses at more than 130 Protestant churches in the region, and the government has even razed sanctuaries.
Chinese officials often justify their actions by claiming that they are enforcing building codes, like they did in the Longgang Huai En Church.
Officials also deny that they are specifically targeting churches, but experts and church leaders in Zhejiang province believe otherwise.
Yang Fenggang, a Purdue University sociologist and leading expert on religious matters in China, suggests that Chinese authorities are reacting to the strength of Christianity in Zhejiang province.
“The only reason I can think of is that the Zhejiang authorities intend to humiliate Christians by taking down the symbol sacred to them,” he said.
Still, Christian residents of the Zhejiang province appear determined to practice their faith.
On Monday, the China social media site Weibo featured photos of parishioners at the Longgang Huai En Church praying on its steps and holding banners reading, “Anti-graft, anti-corruption, protect religion.”