More than 250 crosses were removed from churches by Chinese authorities in China's Anhui province alone between January and April this year. The shocking statistics highlights an escalating crackdown on Christianity in communist China.
Italian-based magazine Bitter Winter reported that in this latest wave of cross removals, all 250-plus crosses were taken from state-sanctioned churches affiliated with the Three-Self patriotic Movement, mainly from the cities of Lu'an, Ma'anshan, Huaibei and Fuyang.
"All Christian symbols are ordered to be removed as part of the government's crackdown campaign," a provincial employee from Ma'anshan city told Bitter Winter.
At one place of worship, The Gulou Church in Fuyang city, more than 100 congregants had tried to stop authorities taking their cross down on April 1. However, officials returned the next day and removed the cross from outside the building.
It is reported that local officials told churchgoers that the cross removal was part of a national policy in the country to remove all religious symbols from public places.
One church congregant has reported, "We support the state and comply with its regulations. 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."
The churchgoer added, "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."
In one city, Lu-an, nearly 200 churches have had their crosses removed in 2020 up until the end of April, Bitter Winter has reported.
Church leaders have been threatened with imprisonment and church closures if they refuse for their crosses to be taken down.
One anonymous elder from a Hanshan county church has reported, "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 recent years there have been reports that the Chinese government has plans to impose its influence on churches and Christianity in the country. Chinese Christian activist Bob Fu, who is the founder of China Aid, reported to the U.S. Congress that the Chinese government is supervising a five-year plan to make Christianity more compatible with socialism.
The plan includes a "rewrite" of the Bible to make socialist ideas seem more divine, Fu explained.
China has been listed by the U.S. State Department for years as a "country of particular concern" for engaging in systemic and egregious violations of religious freedom.