The demolition of this towering Protestant cathedral (below) on the outskirts of the coastal Chinese city of Wenzhou on April 28, 2014 marked the launch of a government campaign to curtail the fastest-growing religion in nominally atheist China. There are now about 100 million Christians in the world’s most populous nation, eclipsing the 86.7 million-strong membership of the ruling Communist party. According to western intellectual tradition, modernity is supposed to bring secularization but in modern Communist China it has been accompanied by an extraordinary rise of religions formerly banned as “opiates of the masses”.
Surprisingly, given its status as a “foreign” religion, Christianity (particularly the Protestant and Pentecostal variety) has been the big winner in the competition for Chinese souls. If it continues to spread at its current pace, the country is very likely to be home to the world’s largest Christian population within the next 15 years. For China’s authoritarian leaders, who despise and fear any force not under their direct control, this seemingly unstoppable trend is very disturbing.
“By 2030, China will almost certainly have more Christians than any other country and the Communist party is very alarmed,” says Fenggang Yang, director of the Centre on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University. “Chinese officials often cite the experience of Poland, where they believe the Catholic Church helped destroy communism and, although the two situations are not really comparable, the party still sees Christianity as a very serious threat that it needs to suppress.”
The government demolition in April of 2014 went ahead despite protests by thousands of local Christians who camped out for weeks in the shadow of the Sanjiang church. Built over six years at a cost of about 5 million US dollars, it was destroyed in less than a day. Since then, several more churches have been knocked down and prominent crosses on as many as 300 others throughout Wenzhou and the surrounding Zhejiang Province have been removed by the authorities, sometimes following violent confrontations with parishioners. Hundreds of people have been detained for short periods and some remain in custody, accused under ambiguous crimes more often used to punish political dissidents.—Jamil Anderlini in Beijing, Financial Times 11/07/14 (Excerpt)