Chinese authorities removed 250 church crosses between January and April of this year, according to a leading persecution watchdog. The symbols were removed from state-mandated "Three-Self" churches across China’s Anhui province as part of a wider government campaign to strip sanctuaries of Christian imagery and align them with China's communist ideals.
A provincial employee from Ma’anshan city told anti-persecution group Bitter Winter that "all Christian symbols are ordered to be removed as part of the government’s crackdown campaign."
The historic Gulou Church in Fuyang city was one of the churches targeted by the removal campaign. The church had its cross removed from outside its building on 2 April after more than 100 congregation attempted to stop the officials from taking it the previous day.
A member of the church insisted that Gulou "supports the state and comply with its regulations," and is therefore baffled by the intense persecution.
They added: "We can have a dialogue with the government if it thinks that we have done something wrong, but they can’t persecute us this way. Officials did not show any documents, fearing that people would implicate them with anything in writing. They only conveyed verbal orders and forced us to obey them.”
According to Bitter Winter, in the city of Lu-an, more than 183 churches had crosses removed during the first quarter of 2020.
An elder from a Three-Self church in Hanshan county said the local authorities were ramping up operations against the church following two meetings with central government officials. The elder said: "The fact that all church crosses in the county have been taken off makes us very sad because the cross [is] the primary symbol of our faith.
"But we don’t dare to disobey central government orders: little fish don’t eat big fish.”
In late April, a church built by US missionaries was stripped of its cross after the authorities struck under the cover of darkness to remove the precious symbol. Hefei Christian Church (HCC) in the country's Anhui province was founded by American missionaries sent by Disciples of Christ back in 1896.