China church criticises proposed rules on crosses

China church criticises proposed rules on crosses
A Church in Qingdao is being cleaned.

SHANGHAI - A state-approved Chinese church has issued a rare public criticism of proposed local government regulations on religious buildings, including limits on cross sizes, after a wave of church demolitions and symbol removals in the area.

Zhejiang province, one of China's wealthiest and a centre of Christianity in the country, has released draft rules requiring crosses for Catholic and Protestant churches to be attached to the front of the building, rather than on the roof, state media have reported.

They must also be no more than a tenth of the building's height.

China's ruling Communist Party keeps tight control over religion for fear it could challenge its grip on power, requiring followers to worship in places approved by the state and under government supervision.

The planned rules, which are open to public comment until May 20, follow a year-long campaign by Zhejiang, in eastern China, to crack down on churches it deems to be violating building codes, which activists say is a part of a wider move targeting religion.

"The rules make many unreasonable requests for Catholic and Protestant buildings," said the state-backed Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, Zhejiang's capital.

"They also excessively interfere in freedom for reasonable use of building interiors, violating the basic spirit of the state's religious management," said the statement to Zhejiang authorities, which was circulated online.

The website of the church, said to be Hangzhou's largest official Protestant place of worship, was inaccessible on Friday.

Last month, authorities removed crosses from 12 churches in Zhejiang's Lishui city, according to US-based religious rights group China Aid Association.

A Chinese court in March jailed a Christian pastor for one year for disturbing public order after he sought to stop a cross being removed from atop a church in Zhejiang's Pingyang county.

Last year, workers demolished the Sanjiang Church near Wenzhou city in Zhejiang, following government claims it was an illegal structure.

The state-linked China Christian Council estimates the country has around 20 million Christians, excluding Catholics. But the true number of worshippers could be higher, at least 40 million to 60 million, according to some estimates, as some pray at "underground" or "house" churches which seek to exist outside government control.

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