Even state-run churches are not spared CCP’s endless harassments. Two directors of Three-Self churches in Henan died after crackdowns on their places of worship.
by Yao Zhangjin
All religions in China, especially the banned movements like Falun Gong, are being subjected to the most severe suppression since the Cultural Revolution. In some cases, persecutions result in the deaths of people of faith: some take their lives unable to live without practicing their religions freely, while others die overwhelmed by government-imposed inhibitions. Even being a member of an officially approved church does not mean that one is safe, as more and more pressure is exerted on congregations of state-run churches, too. On July 17, 2019, Song Yongsheng, the chairman of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in Henan Province’s Shangqiu city, committed suicide, unable to bear CCP’s control.
Since August 2018, the Three-Self Gospel Church in Humiao village in Shangqiu’s Zhecheng county has been subjected to numerous government crackdowns. First, its cross was demolished, then, the church was shut down and converted into a “Dining site for wedding and funeral council.”
The church director, 73-year-old Ding Mei, remained at the helm throughout these tumultuous months. “After the church was shut down, Ding Mei’s health was getting worse,” a congregation member told Bitter Winter. “She kept repeating that she had let down brothers and sisters, blaming herself for failing to preserve the church. She wept often and has lost appetite. Because of her deteriorating health, she had to receive intravenous infusions frequently.”
“To save money for building the church, brothers and sisters had never spent money on good food and drinks, and they sold their eggs and even hair,” another believer added. “After the government forcibly occupied the church, Ding Mei felt responsible for not saving it.”
After the church was repurposed on August 29, 2018, Ding Mei became even more anxious. Though feeling weak, she visited the county’s Religious Affairs Bureau almost every day hoping to get the church back, but to no avail.
On December 7, she submitted her last application to the Bureau. The reply stated that no leniency would be shown to the church congregation because places of worship are being closed down as per the national policy; more than a dozen churches had been shut down in the county already.
This has left Ding Mei completely distraught. The next day, she started vomiting blood and fainted. A medical examination revealed that the woman had a brain hemorrhage, and she died nine days later.
“It’s Xi Jinping’s policy that has driven her to death,” a local elderly believer said angrily.
A member of a Three-Self church in Zhecheng county told Bitter Winter that he had heard of at least eight cases of church workers falling ill as a result of government persecutions.
According to residents from Shibali village in Weishi county under the jurisdiction of Kaifeng city, their Three-Self church was taken over by the government in mid-2018.
“The church has been converted into a cultural activity center, and officials started giving villagers 50 RMB (about $ 7) to go there for entertainment and free lunch,” a local believer told Bitter Winter. “The place for worshipping God has become a place for amusement, and believers lost the place for gatherings. This situation troubled the church director; it permanently weighed on her.” Already in weak health, the director’s condition deteriorated sharply, and she died in December.
Believers from Zhaishang village, administered by Gaoji town in Henan’s Dengzhou city, told Bitter Winter that the increasingly severe persecution had driven their Three-Self church congregation to desperation. On August 9, 2018, the government repurposed the venue, and its director started experiencing continuous harassment from local authorities. Consequently, he had a heart attack and was taken to a hospital.
Similarly, the 71-year-old director of a Three-Self meeting venue in Dengzhou’s Linba town was hospitalized for hypertension after the government shut down the church.