Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

China denies church demolition is persecution of Christians

By Zoe Li, CNN
updated 12:01 AM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
The Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou had been demolished by April 28.
The Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou had been demolished by April 28.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • $4.7 million landmark church has been demolished in China
  • Officials responsible for demolition say church was an illegal structure
  • Christian rights group says demolition signals an official anti-religious campaign

(CNN) -- A massive church was razed to the ground this week in Wenzhou, a coastal Chinese city nicknamed the "Jerusalem of the East" for its large Christian population.

Local officials responsible for the demolition say the church was an illegal structure that was four times the permitted structure size. But Christian groups are concerned that the demolition signals an official campaign against religious organizations.

The Sanjiang Church took 12 years and 30 million yuan ($4.7 million) to build, reports Chinese media. Its soaring spires were a symbol of worship in a city that is fifteen percent Christian.

The church's demolition on Monday was preceded by a month-long standoff between supporters of the church and local authorities, with supporters occupying the church to protest its destruction.

China's Catholics open up about faith
Is Ariz. bill about Christians vs. Gays?
'Duck Dynasty' debate divides Christians

The church was originally a government-approved project under the official "Three-Self Patriotic Movement," a state-sanctioned Protestant church. Last September it was lauded by the local government as a model engineering project.

But the official rhetoric has since changed entirely.

Jin Leibo, a spokesperson from the propaganda department of Yongjia County, where Sanjiang Church was located, told CNN that the church was destroyed as it was "illegal."

"The building area should be within 1,881 square meters, but they built 7,928 square meters illegally," Jin said. The church was asked to "self-rectify" by April 22, but workers only managed to tear down 500 square meters by deadline, according to officials.

By Monday evening the church had been flattened by bulldozers.

Five local government officials are currently under investigation in relation to the illegal construction of the church, according to Jin. One official was arrested, and another is in custody.

Representatives of the church could not be reached for comment by CNN.

U.S.-based Christian rights group China Aid says the faithful are worried that the church demolition could be a sign that the government is tightening its grip over the spread of Christianity in China.

The organization claims that churches in different parts of Wenzhou and Hangzhou are currently "facing persecution" as a result of a provincial campaign against religious structures that was set into motion after Zhejiang Party Secretary Xia Baolong visited churches across the province and deemed them "too conspicuous."

Under Communist Party rule since 1949, China is officially an atheist country, but Christianity is growing. According to the Pew Research Center, China's Christian population had reached 67 million by 2010, the second largest in Asia.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:51 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
David McKenzie meets some American teenagers who are spending a year in China to be fully immersed in the culture.
updated 9:59 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
The Chinese government pledges to protect a boy with HIV, who was shunned by his entire village in Sichuan, state media reported.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane.
updated 12:03 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
updated 7:21 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons for Beijing.
updated 12:42 AM EST, Sat December 6, 2014
At the height of his power, security chief Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
updated 3:26 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
updated 1:48 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
updated 3:55 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Despite a high-profile anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past year.
updated 7:01 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
updated 7:51 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
A 24-hour bookstore in Taipei is a popular hangout for both hipsters and bookworms.
updated 8:53 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
updated 5:57 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
North Korean refugees and defectors face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT