State-Sanctioned Church in Jiangsu Province Demolished

January 20, 2011

In November 2010, the government-registered Chengnan Church—a Protestant church in Yancheng city, Jiangsu province—was demolished. There have been reports that authorities in Yancheng had expressed interest in taking over the land that the church occupied prior to the demolition. Provisions exist in Chinese law that protect state-sanctioned churches' property, as described below. Nonetheless, over the last two years, several other government-registered churches have been demolished.

On November 19, 2010, the Chengnan Church—a government-registered church in Tinghu district, Yancheng city, Jiangsu province—was demolished, according to a November 22, 2010, report from ChinaAid (CAA). According to a November 17, 2010, CAA report, officials from the Yancheng Municipal Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, Tinghu District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, Yancheng Municipal Administration Office of Major Public Construction Projects, and Tinghu District Party Discipline Inspection Commission went to the site of the church in early November and told church members that they were working on demolition projects.

In a December 22, 2008, article (via Christian Newswire), CAA reported that since 2006, government officials and real estate developers had sought to acquire the Chengnan Church's property, which is in the city center, in order to build commercial residential buildings. Formally established and registered with the government in 1999, the Chengnan Church constructed a large church building reportedly worth 5 million yuan (over US$600,000) in 2005; in 2006, real estate developers offered the church 2.86 million yuan (approximately US$360,000) for the land the church was on. After the Chengnan Church refused the offer, the church's water and electricity stopped. Beginning in 2008, reported efforts to demolish the church encountered opposition from church members, according to the report. For example, in September 2010, members of the Chengnan Church congregation wrote a letter to the Yancheng Municipal People's Government to protest a decision to demolish the church, according to the November 17 CAA report. On December 17, 2008, police officers removed members of the church from the building, some by force, and demolished the church's office, training center, and cafeteria, CAA reported. According to the November 22, 2010, CAA report, the church was completely demolished on November 19, 2010. Chinese reports on the incident or on the compensation and relocation appear to be unavailable.

Several provisions in Chinese laws and regulations are intended to protect property. Article 42 of China's 2007 Property Law allows expropriation of urban land in the "public interest," subject to compensation for demolition and resettlement. The Property Law does not fully define the term "public interest," however, and some cases of forced eviction or lack of adequate compensation have pointed to the Property Law's ambiguous use of the term. Profit from rapidly rising property values has led to an incentive for developers and government authorities to favor or not oppose the demolition of some buildings—including some government-registered sites of worship—displacing people in locations throughout China, as noted in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's 2010 Annual Report. In some cases, this is magnified by collusion between local officials and property developers, for example through officials' ownership interests in or family relationships with the property developers.

The national Regulation on Religious Affairs (RRA) provides a measure of protection specifically for state-sanctioned religious communities. Article 30 of the RRA stipulates that the property legally used by state-sanctioned religious bodies is protected by law and that "[n]o organization or individual may encroach upon, loot, privately divide up, damage, destroy, or, illegally set up, impound, freeze, confiscate or dispose of the legal property of a religious body or a site for religious activities... ." Article 33 stipulates that the demolisher of a site for religious activities "shall consult with the religious body or the site for religious activities concerned," and "[i]f, after consultation, all the parties concerned agree to the demolition, the demolisher shall rebuild the houses or structures demolished, or, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the State, make compensation on the basis of the appraised market price of the houses or structures demolished." Article 38 stipulates that "Where any State functionary, in administration of religious affairs, abuses his power, neglects his duty or commits illegalities for personal gain or by fraudulent means, and a crime is thus constituted, he shall be investigated for criminal liability according to law; if no crime is constituted, he shall be given an administrative sanction according to law." Article 39 stipulates that "Where anyone ... interferes with the normal religious activities conducted by a religious body or a site for religious activities, the religious affairs department shall order it to make corrections... ."

The Chinese government requires that religious organizations register with the government and submit to the leadership of "patriotic religious organizations" created by the Party to lead China's five recognized religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, and Taoism. Members of unregistered religious groups, as well as groups that are not affiliated with one of the five official religions, are not guaranteed legal protection under Chinese law and risk harassment, detention, imprisonment, and other abuses. According to the U.S. State Department's 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, China's State Administration for Religious Affairs reported in June 2010 that the number of state-sanctioned churches is 50,000 and that the state-sanctioned Protestant population is 16 million; the Pew Research Center estimated in 2007 that 50 to 70 million Chinese Protestants worship in China's unregistered congregations ("house churches").

In recent years, several other state-sanctioned churches have been demolished in addition to the Chengnan Church:

  • On June 9, 2009, the state-sanctioned Changchunli Church in Ji'nan municipality, Shandong province, was demolished, according to a June 15, 2009, CAA report (via Christian Newswire). A September 27, 2010 CAA report (via International Christian Concern) states that the church did not receive compensation, and that since 2009, some of the church members have built tents on land that the developer is building on. According to the September 27 CAA report, on September 23, 2010, people in police uniforms entered the tents inhabited by church members and used force on several of the church members.
  • On June 8, 2010, the only Catholic church in Ordos municipality, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, was demolished, and public security officers detained two clergy members for over 20 hours, according to a June 11, 2010, CAA report. The local government intended to build a new road on the land where the church was located, according to a June 10, 2010, AsiaNews report.
  • On June 12, 2010, a building belonging to a church registered with the Yichun Three-Self Patriotic Movement in Yichun district, Heilongjiang province, was demolished, according to a June 28, 2010, CAA report (via Boxun). Authorities reportedly used force to remove some of the church members from the site.

For more information on state-sanctioned churches in China, see Section II—Freedom of Religion in the Commission's 2010 Annual Report. For more information on urban land expropriation, see Section III—Commercial Rule of Law (pp. 187–189).