China Blows Up Hundreds of
The Daily Telegraph (London) has reported that Chinese authorities in Wenzhou have torn down or blown up more than 200 illegal churches and temples.
A further 239 small places of worship in the east coast city, many of them linked to the underground Roman Catholic Church, have been forced to close.
China's millions of underground Christians, especially those who have defied Beijing to remain loyal to the Pope, face a bleak Christmas as a campaign against illegal worship of all varieties coincides with a crisis in China's relations with the wider Christian world.
"In the past week, I have received several reports from China that bishops and priests have been detained by police, and I am now trying to authenticate them," said Joseph Kung, head of the American-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, which monitors the underground Catholic Church in China.
"Probably this is the beginning of the crackdown for the Christmas season. All these important feast days, like Christmas and Easter, they always crack down."
The underground churches demolished were not established church buildings, Mr. Kung said, but were often private homes where Christians unwilling to worship in "official" churches gathered in secret for prayers and services.
This autumn, China reacted with fury to the Pope's decision to canonize 120 Catholic martyrs on Oct. 1, China's National Day.
Most of the martyrs were killed in 1900 by the Boxers, fanatics whom Beijing calls patriotic heroes. China called the new saints a collection of notorious criminals and rapists. Christianity, especially Catholicism, has traditionally been regarded as a foreign, "imperialist" import, in a note of fierce nationalism underlying the atheist Communist dislike of all religion.
Frank Lu, director of the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, said last night that the latest campaign against religion in Wenzhou, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, had begun in August, and intensified in recent weeks. "Wenzhou is an important centre of Chinese Catholicism," said Mr. Lu.
Wenzhou, a boom town of shoe factories, sweatshops and dealers in pirate goods, has a long history of Christianity because of its trading links with the outside world.
Last year, Wenzhou police arrested three leading members of the underground Roman Catholic Church. Those detained included an 81-year-old bishop, Lin Xili.
The places of worship closed and demolished in Wenzhou were reported to include Buddhist and Taoist temples as well as Catholic and Protestant churches. Officials admitted blowing up Catholic establishments in neighboring Fujian province last summer.
The 449 centers that were targets of the latest campaign, running since mid-November, had all failed to register with the State Administration for Religious Affairs, officials said.
Religious worship, though protected by the constitution, must be "patriotic", and can take place only in establishments under the control of the Communist Party.