CHINA: Official Press Confirms Wenzhou Destruction Campaign.

by John Fisher, Keston News Service, 31 May 2001

Keston News Service has obtained important documentary evidence of the extent of the destruction of unregistered religious buildings in Wenzhou in the province of Zhejiang in south-eastern China at the end of last year. The evidence from the official Communist-controlled press in Wenzhou is overwhelming: a carefully planned campaign against `feudal superstition', lasting from the end of October to December last year, was unleashed throughout the municipality, destroying hundreds of Buddhist, Daoist and Christian temples, shrines and churches, carried out with the explicit approval of the municipal Communist Party and state authorities.

Several Christian house-church leaders Keston spoke to in the region in May claimed the catalyst for the campaign was a visit by President Jiang Zemin in early 2000. He was reportedly horrified by the sight of hundreds of Christian churches and Buddhist shrines, many of them unregistered with the authorities.

The brother of one Wenzhou house-church leader told Keston that the original decree for the destruction of illegal shrines and churches had been issued in July of last year, ordering Christians, Buddhists and Daoists to personally demolish their `illegal' structures. Not surprisingly, they had not obeyed. It was not until the end of the year that the municipal authorities took massive action. Although Keston has been unable to corroborate the report of Jiang Zemin's instigation, there seems little doubt that an anti-religious campaign of this virulence could not have been unleashed without at least the acquiescence of the central government.

The same house-church leader added that Wenzhou authorities held a party conference early in 2001. Some leaders were reportedly shocked by the strength of the international protests against the demolitions, with some arguing the `rectification' campaign had gone too far. Orders were given to tidy up the ruins dotting the municipality, and an olive-branch extended to unregistered Christians that they might be permitted to rebuild their churches - if they registered with the government and joined the state-controlled Protestant body, the `Three Self Patriotic Movement'. There is little likelihood of this happening. Wenzhou house-churches have reportedly split into smaller cell groups and carried on meeting.

Wenzhou is known in Christian circles throughout the country as the `Jerusalem of China' because of the huge increase in the number of Protestant Christians since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. According to a leading local pastor in the State-supervised Christian Council, registered Protestants number over 600,000 – or about 10% of the population. This figure does not include large numbers in the unregistered churches who for many years had enjoyed a degree of freedom unusual in China.

The first report of the destruction to reach the West was on Radio Australia on 12 December 2000 which claimed that `450 Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as Daoist and Buddhist temples' had been shut down or blown up in the Ouhai District of Wenzhou City. The following day the Hong Kong based `South China Morning Post' stated that `449 Christian churches and Taoist and Buddhist temples' had been `closed and in some cases even blown up' in the same Ouhai District. The same day the news broke in the United States and Britain with detailed reports in the Daily Telegraph and Associated Press.

However, significant differences of detail began to emerge. For instance, AP quoted a spokesman for the Wenzhou City propaganda department saying that `as many as 450 buildings had been destroyed. Most were in the Ouhai district of Wenzhou and in nearby Yongjia and Yueqing counties.' The demolitions were stated to have begun `at the start of December in rural areas around the port city of Wenzhou.' However, the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Hong Kong was cited as claiming that `the number of destroyed buildings [was] much higher, at 1,200'. On 18 December the Washington Post published a long, graphic account of the demolitions, including interviews with local Christians. It stated that `even the state-run media have reported that more than 1,500 churches, Buddhist temples and Taoist shrines around the port city of Wenzhou have been shut down or destroyed since the crackdown began in early November'. Although these reports agreed on the scale of the campaign, they differed over when the campaign began and the exact number and location of churches, temples and shrines shut down or demolished.

Confusion may have been compounded by ignorance of the geography of the municipality of Wenzhou, which covers several thousand square miles and had a total population of 6.3 million in 1994. Only about 1.3 million live in the actual city of Wenzhou. Four million people inhabit the eight mainly rural counties of Ouhai, Yueqing, Yongjia, Pingyang, Cangnan, Wencheng, Taishun and Dongtou (an offshore island); one million people belong to the separate city of Ruian. All these administrative units comprise the Greater Municipality of Wenzhou.

In fact a whole series of articles were published openly in the local `Wenzhou Daily' (Wenzhou Ribao) throughout November 2000 which shed considerable light on the campaign. They show that the demolition of churches began in late October and was not confined to Ouhai County, but reached many parts of Greater Wenzhou.

On 13 November 2000 the `Wenzhou Daily' announced a major campaign by the authorities to eradicate illegal religious activities in an article entitled `Earnestly Implement the Party's Religious Policy - Rectify Illegal Religious Activities in Accordance with the Law.' It stated - significantly - that `a two-month campaign to rectify illegal religious activities has already been launched throughout our municipality. A few days ago our reporter visited Yan Shengguang, Head of the Municipal Religious Affairs Bureau and Head of the Office to Rectify Illegal religious Activities.' Yan declared that `it was absolutely necessary for the Municipal Communist Party Committee and the Municipal Government to decide to take special measures to bring illegal religious activities under control'.

On the same day the `Wenzhou Daily' published a shorter article entitled `Eradicate Superstition - Initiate Civilisation', giving details of the campaign at grass-roots. `Yesterday was Sunday and an illegal religious structure in Wodi village of Qiaotou Township in Yongjia County had never seen such a busy scene. This illegal structure had already been designated by the villagers to be changed into a village cultural and recreational activities centre_ From the end of last month [October] this township has mobilised the masses and has firstly changed three illegal religious structures into recreational and cultural centres for the villages, placing TVs, table-tennis tables and books in them. Or they have changed illegal churches and meeting-points into village schools.'

A month later, on 18 December, the `Washington Post' painted a rather more graphic account of the persecution in Qiaotou: `Officials in nearby Qiaotou township had been threatening for years to tear down four illegal Protestant churches. Residents say authorities would usually shut them down and allow them to re-open when the political environment eased, but this year, all four were destroyed or converted into recreation centres. The largest, the two-storey Wangtian church built in 1982 was destroyed two weeks ago. Residents said a crowd of 70 worshippers, many of them crying, watched from behind a line of police officers as workers dismantled the church, tore down its cross and defaced an inscription from the Book of Psalms on its façade because officials considered it superstitious. "They say we have freedom of religion, but why do they do this to a church? Where's the freedom?" asked a congregational leader who asked not to be identified because police have tried to arrest him. He and other members of the congregation said they refused to register their church with the government because the Communist Party would require the names of all the members and would monitor all church functions. Their faith, they said, is incompatible with party control. "The Party can supervise our bodies and our minds", said one member, "but we can't let it supervise our souls."'

On 17 November 2000 the `Wenzhou Daily' published a further article entitled: `Yongjia tears down More than Ten Illegal Religious Structures - the City Leadership Requires that the Work of Rectification be Done Well By Treating Both the Root Causes and the Symptoms'. It said that Yongjia County had already torn down ten illegal religious structures and taken over another 25 for other uses. `The County first began this work in Mingqiao and Zhikou Rural Districts. The illegally constructed Christian church in Zhong Village in Mingqiao Rural District was very large and had a big congregation. On 9 November Yongjia County tore down the Christian church in Zhong village according to the law.' All this was instigated by the Yongjia County authorities and their superiors in Wenzhou Municipality: `The whole county set up a command centre for rectifying illegal religious activities; four supervisory teams; ten teams to execute the law and ten demolition teams_ Yesterday the Vice-Chairman of the [Wenzhou] Municipal Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee and the Head of the Municipal United Front Work Department, Wang Houshi, listened to reports from Yongjia County and came to the village to investigate. He ordered that the Yongjia County [authorities] step up their work and continue to break through any difficulties in their work of rectification so that religious activities were brought under the control of the local village [Party] organisations.'

This laconic report confirms the report of the demolition of the church in Zhong in the same Washington Post article of 18 December: `When Hu Saiwang [a 22 year old migrant worker] arrived in the village of Zhong, the church was gone. Only a pile of broken concrete, loose bricks and splintered lumber remained. A few weeks ago a group of Communist Party and government officials showed up and declared the church illegal because it operated outside the control of China's state-run religious organisations. They seized the congregation's organ and audio system and then, as police stood guard, started swinging sledgehammers, stopping only after the building was flattened. "We don't have anywhere to go now", said Hu Shimei, 62, who helped build the church. "But we'll celebrate Christmas at home, because we are still faithful."'

On 24 November 2000 the `Wenzhou Daily' published an article headed `Resolutely Uphold the Rectification of Illegal Religious Activities'. In this all the legally-registered `patriotic' religious organisations in Wenzhou (Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist and Daoist) dutifully expressed their approval of the campaign.

On 25 November, the same newspaper reported that more than 500 police, firemen and other officials had torn down `five large-scale illegal religious structures' in the Lucheng Ward of Wenzhou City itself. `Up until yesterday in this Ward 48 illegal religious structures have been dealt with.' The article also revealed that there were `more than 40 illegal evangelists in Lucheng Ward and more than 140 illegal religious structures. More than 20 officials from relevant departments had transferred cadres to form three work teams to direct the work of rectification in three key areas. Every street committee, rural district and township publicised the religious regulations and relevant laws through all kinds of propaganda and slogans, and undertook legal training of every religious organisation, as well as sealing shut every illegal religious structure.' This showed the extent of the campaign and the efforts to indoctrinate people at the grass-roots level.

On 28 November the `Wenzhou Daily' published yet another article on its front page headed `Ruian Concentrates on Rectifying Illegal Religious Activities'. The article stated that Ruian City had so far forcibly demolished 28 illegal religious structures which had been built without permission, as well as demolishing 356 small Buddhist and Daoist village and wayside shrines. `From the beginning of November until the end of December, this city is undertaking a concentrated two-month campaign to rectify illegal religious activities. At the same time, cadres from the relevant departments have been transferred to form the rectification office and eight investigation teams to go into each of the eight wards of Ruian City. For several days, the city has every day mobilised several thousand cadres and members of the masses to take part in this rectification work. On 24 November three rural districts and townships in the Taoshan District mobilised more than 250 police and other departments to carry out a thorough rectification of more than 60 illegal religious structures, and halls and meeting-points for feudal superstition. They have already torn down 36 and are in process of blowing up four larger ones. In just two days Tangxia Township has demolished 63 small Daoist and Buddhist shrines. Mayu Township in just one day has torn down 53 illegal religious structures and small Buddhist and Daoist shrines.' (END)