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Christians form human shield around church

April 7, 2014 · 

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Christians form human shield around church in
'China's Jerusalem' after demolition threat
Christians have flocked to defend a church in
eastern China after Communist Party officials
claimed it was an "illegal construction" and
announced plans to demolish it
Thousands of Chinese Christians have mounted an
extraordinary, round-the-clock defence of a
church in a city known as the 'Jerusalem of the
East'
Thousands of Chinese Christians have mounted an
extraordinary defence of a church in a city known
as the 'Jerusalem of the East'
By Tom Phillips, Wenzhou9:25PM BST 04 Apr 2014
Thousands of Chinese Christians have mounted an
extraordinary, round-the-clock defence of a
church in a city known as the 'Jerusalem of the
East' after Communist Party officials threatened
to bulldoze their place of worship.
In an episode that underlines the fierce and
long-standing friction between China's officially
atheist Communist Party and its rapidly growing
Christian congregation, Bible-carrying believers
this week flocked to the Sanjiang church in
Wenzhou hoping to protect it from the bulldozers.
Their 24-hour guard began earlier this week when
a demolition notice was plastered onto the
newly-constructed church which worshippers say
cost around 30 million yuan (£2.91 million) and
almost six years to build.
Officials claimed the church had been built
illegally and used red paint to daub the words:
"Demolish" and "Illegal construction" onto its
towering facade.
The threat triggered a furious reaction in
Wenzhou, a booming port city known for its
vibrant Christian community, said to be China's
largest.
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Hundreds of people, including elderly and in some
cases disabled women, have now occupied the
church to prevent demolition teams moving in.
"There are bad people out there trying to damage
our church so we must defend it," said Li
Jingliu, a 56-year-old former factory worker who
has been sleeping in one of its back offices
since Wednesday.
"I've come here today to show my support. A
church is a scared place and we are all brothers
and sisters." said Jin Yufu, 55, from the nearby
community of Wenling. "Christianity has made a
big contribution to society in many ways. Thanks
to Church we don't smoke, gamble or drink.
Christians are good people."
Wenzhou, a wealthy coastal city around 230 miles
south of Shanghai in Zhejiang province, has
around seven million residents. Local Christians
claim as many as 15 per cent of them are church
goers, the majority Protestant.
Red crosses and spires still adorn the skyline of
a city where British missionaries, including
George Stott, set up churches towards the end of
the 19th century.
Wenzhou's underground "house" churches - those
unwilling to comply with Communist Party rules -
have long been subjected to sporadic crackdowns,
such as one in 2000 that saw hundreds of churches
and temples demolished across Zhejiang province.
However, the Sanjiang church is part of the
Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China's officially
sanctioned and government-controlled Protestant
church, making this week's stand-off highly
unusual.

Parishioners believe their church was targeted
after Xia Baolong, the provincial Party chief,
visited the region and was unimpressed by the
prominence of a church built to house thousands
of worshippers.
"His behaviour is illegal. He has abused his
power. The construction of the church is not
against the law," said Wang Jianfeng, a
47-year-old man from a nearby congregation who
was among hundreds of people gathered on the
steps outside on Friday in a show of force.
Wen Xiaowu, another visitor, said he believed
China's president would be "displeased" with his
Communist colleagues in Zhejiang.
"Xi Jinping has said society should be
harmonious. He is very open-minded about
disciples of the Christian church."
Sanjiang's resistance has been organised with
almost military precision. A makeshift kitchen
behind the altar provides rice, pork and fried
liver with leeks for those occupying the church
while women hand out bottles of water and
satsumas at the entrance.
By day, Christians from around the province crowd
the church's steps, with undercover security
agents mingling among them, snapping photos and
eavesdropping. By night, hundreds of worshippers
take it in turns to keep watch, grabbing a few
hours of sleep on cramped wooden pews between
shifts.
He Hongying, an 81-year-old member of the
resistance, said she would stay for as long as
necessary. "I slept here last night and I will do
the same again tonight. We pulled two pews
together so it was quite all right. We feel at
peace and fearless when we are with our God."
The dispute over Sanjiang has highlighted the
ongoing difficulties facing China's fast growing
Christian community. In 1949, when the Communist
Party took over, it boasted around one million
members. Today, there are thought to be more
Chinese Christians than Communist Party members,
with up to 100 million mainland believers,
according to some estimates.
Life has improved since the days of Mao Tse-tung,
who saw religion as "poison" and presided over
the decade-long Cultural Revolution when churches
were ransacked and burned.
However, campaigners say that while the
constitution guarantees freedom of religion,
Beijing still maintains a tight-grip on what many
leaders see as a potential challenge to their
authority.
Members of Sanjiang's congregation said that,
under Chinese law, they were only allowed to
worship on Sundays. Preachers were required to
avoid politically sensitives topics.
During a visit to China last month, Michelle
Obama, the US First Lady, hinted at concerns over
religious freedom here, telling an audience:
"When it comes to expressing yourself freely, and
worshipping as you choose, and having open access
to information - we believe those are universal
rights that are the birthright of every person on
this planet."
A woman who introduced herself as a
representative of the local government rejected
claims the Communist Party was persecuting local
Christians.
"They can believe. This is free. We can't control
them," said the woman, who gave her name as Zhang
Biyao.
Ms Zhang said the church had been illegally built
and was structurally unsound. The government
wanted to protect "people's safety," she claimed.
Sanjiang's congregation was unconvinced.
Yang Zhumei, 74, said she had pleaded with officials to leave her church alone.
"I held their hands and said, "Comrades, don't
take down our cross. I can give you my head
instead."
"Even if they take my head, I can still find happiness with God," she shouted.
Li Jingliu, who lost her right arm to an
industrial accident and has been a church member
for 34 years, said she would not allow her place
of worship to be damaged. "I will guard the
church until the very end, without fearing
hardship or death," she said. "God will punish
those who try to take down the cross."
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