During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), a particular harsh period for religious people, all the religious activities in China were forced to go underground. Nowadays in mainland China, the ongoing religious catastrophe is perceived as the worst persecution since the Cultural Revolution, and the religious persecution has continuously intensified. Believers struggle to protect the remaining space for belief in their own way.
Since last February, a huge number of crosses have been dismantled throughout China. The government’s mass purge is targeting not only the crosses in state-approved churches but also the cross decorations in believers’ houses.
For the believers, they are fighting the war for protecting the crosses. Some churches repeatedly erected the crosses after they were torn down. As for the government, making crosses extinct seems to be imperative—they demolished the crosses in a secret, brazen, or deceptive way, and violently beat the believers who protested against the demolition. Left with no choice, the priest of a Catholic church that belongs to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in Hebei Province had to use a creative way to defend his belief carefully.
The priest left a cross-shaped hole on the roof of the bell tower, which is located at the top of the church, and laid a board flat at another place. Thus, when the sunlight shines through the hole, there will be a cross on the ground.
“This hidden cross is a mark of the persecution that the church is subjected to,” the priest said.
Special Sunday school
On December 23, 2018, in Taizhou City in Zhejiang Province, some children were rehearsing performances for Christmas. A more than 50-year-old believer sat by the window, having her back to the children and keeping watching outside.
When being asked what she was looking at, the believer said, “Do sentry duty. Officials from town government have come four times continuously except last Sunday to inspect if we hold a Sunday school.”
As expected, half an hour later, a car emblazoned with “official” drove into the courtyard. The believer on sentry duty immediately asked the children to stop rehearsal, so they then skillfully started to play games.
When the 5 men inspected the rooms one-by-one, the children volunteered, “We have no teacher here.”
In another room, teachers of the Sunday school were talking about the cosmetic products they bought recently, just managing to tackle the inspection in this way.
The person in charge of a house church in Binzhou City said, “The governments of all levels are supervising and implementing the closure of Sunday schools in the province and each district, town and village. To guarantee the children’s gathering not to fall foul of the checks, Sunday school teachers offered their ideas. They bought cartoon books and picture books for literacy, and children are asked to come with school bags pretending that they come to do their homework. The teachers keep their phone on so that the believer on sentry duty can promptly inform them to change the teaching content once officials come for inspection. When there is no class, we lock the doors lest the officials of the United Front Work Department barge in for a search.”
Special donation box
Some grassroots government officials were demanded to sign a “responsibility statement” to ensure closing down all the house churches for good. One target of this purge is eliminating all religious signs, such as cross, donation box, and pulpit. Many churches had their donation money seized when the church was closed down.
In Jiujiang City of Jiangxi Province, a meeting site of the Head Covering Church nearly had nothing inside except one table, one milk powder bucket, and some benches.
The person in charge of this gathering site said there was a reason for the meeting venue being so crude. In November 2018, the venue that they purchased specially for church gatherings was closed down by the police. The congregation had to hold smaller, scattered gatherings instead. In order to protect the new hard-won meeting venue, they didn’t display any religious signs so that no one could tell this is a site for church gathering. Church members are extremely cautious. The windows are covered with thick curtains, and the milk powder bucket is actually used as a donation box.
“We use a milk powder bucket instead of a real donation box as a precaution against the government. When our gathering is discovered, maybe we can have a chance to protect the donation money,” one believer said.