An Easter Gift to the Christians of Zhejiang?
By J. Millard Burr
Monday, March 23rd, 2015 @ 10:40PM
Not widely reported outside of Christian circles is the fact that despite the success of the Christian movement in Zhejiang, the Chinese government had for more than a year targeted the outward symbols of Christianity displayed by Zhejiang churches. At least 400 crosses were removed, “and 35 Protestant and Catholic churches destroyed… since the end of 2013.” The campaign was reported to be, “among the most destructive against Christians in the region in recent times.”
What triggered the government’s attack is unknown; however, the excuse that churches were violating building codes was widely circulated. Because province officials were reticent to justify their actions, Church officials believed Zhejiang’s provincial governor, Xia Baolong, who was reportedly very annoyed at seeing so many crosses beside a highway in Wenzhou, wanted to put an end to the ‘Jerusalem of the East.’
In a previous report on “Christians in China” published by the American Center for Democracy on 8 February 2015, I made reference to Wenzhou, a coastal city located in southeastern Zhejiang province. In the 2010 census of China the city proper had 3.0 million people, and the total population including two satellite cities and six counties of 9.1 million. Included among the 9.1 million citizens are some 1.2 million Protestants, and the presence of Christian symbols there was so ubiquitous that Wenzhou has acquired the name of “China’s Jerusalem.”
Hangzhou, the capital city of the very prosperous Zhejiang province, has a population of 8 million people, and is likewise known for its large number of Christians. Its Chongyi Church is one of the largest in China, and its “lighted steeple and giant cross penetrate the night sky.” Chongyi Church itself has 1,600 volunteers, can seat 5,000 people and holds multiple services on Sunday.
Ending the Campaign?
For unexplained reasons, in March 2015 it was reported that the government had quietly brought an end to a campaign that had targeted churches in Zhejiang. Xia Baolong, the Communist Party Secretary of Zhejiang province, gave no official explanation.
After serving as Zhejiang Deputy Party Secretary for eight years, the 60 year-old Communist Party factotum, Baolong became Zhejiang’s acting governor in August 2011, and elected Governor in January 2012. By the end of that year he was promoted to the Communist Party’s Secretary – the province’s highest political office. The promotion came following an “assessment of the overall situation, the need of work, and the actual situation of Zhejiang’s leadership buildup.” It was a strange announcement, and not the sort of congratulatory missive that one could expect from the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee.
Perhaps calling a halt to the anti-Christian campaign resulted from a policy initiated by Zhejiang’s former Party Secretary Xi Jinping — China’s “paramount leader” and the present General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People’s Republic of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. As General Secretary, Xi is also an ex officio member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee, wherein the efficacy of the Zhejiang anti-Christian campaign likely was reviewed.
It should be noted that when Xia Baolong first arrived in Zhejiang in November 2003, to serve as Deputy Party Secretary under none other than then Zhejiang Party Secretary (and rising star) Xi Jinping. One can speculate that the two are friends. One can also speculate that Xi was displeased with the adverse publicity the Anti-Christian campaign received in China and abroad. Of course it is always possible that the campaign may have been initiated by Xi himself and in turn called off by him.
One way or the other, the Christians of Zhejiang have received a very nice Easter present.