All photos published on Weibo.
Photos have emerged on Chinese social networks showing the controversial demolition of a large church in eastern China. This followed weeks of protests by parishioners, who saw the move as indicative of a larger crackdown on churches.
Sanjiang church was located in Wenzhou, a coastal city in Zhejiang province that is often referred to as the “Jerusalem of the East” due to its large Christian population, which is for the most part Protestant. Unlike many underground churches in China, Sanjiang was one of those sanctioned and controlled by the government.
However, in early April, local authorities announced plans to destroy it, alleging that its structure violated building codes. Churchgoers viewed the decision as discrimination, in light of recent comments by the head of the province’s ethnic and religious affairs committee who had complained that the spread of Christianity in the region was “too excessive and haphazard”. The local authorities have denied they are targeting Christians. State media reported that the church was built four times larger than the size that had been originally approved by the city.
In April, thousands of worshippers spent weeks guarding the church day and night. However, the protesters ended the occupation after reportedly reaching a compromise with the authorities that would have seen an accessory building reduced in size. However, activists say that the deal broke down in recent days after church leaders were harassed by security agents. And on Monday, the bulldozers moved in.

“Christians raised the funds to build the church, and now it's gone"

Xiao, who lives near Wenzhou, visited the church twice before it was demolished.
I went to visit it after hearing about the demolition order. Hundreds of people were occupying the church. They were cooking meals there, and using the pews as beds. Some of them took turns guarding the outside of the church. Many of the people there were Christians from other cities who had come to help protect the church. We all prayed together for it not to be demolished.
Sanjiang church cost so much money [Editor’s Note: Churchgoers have said the building took six years to build and cost about 30 million yuan, or about 3.5 million euros]. Christians raised the funds to build it, and now it’s gone. This is not the first church to be targeted in Zheijiang province have been targeted. Several have had their crosses removed from their steeples. Christianity is booming in China, but as a result we’re now facing new challenges.
In reaction to the demolition, Christian leader Chen Yilu issued a statement online criticising the local authorities’ “crude and hardline” handling of the crisis, and warned that it would damage the Communist Party’s image and harm “social stability”.
In 1949, when the Communist Party took over, China’s Christian community had about one million members. Today, the latest estimates put the figure at 100 million on the mainland. China, which is officially an atheist state, formally recognises five religions: Buddhism, Toaism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. However, the party has kept a tight grasp on Christian congregations, allowing worship only on Sundays and forcing preachers to avoid topics that are politically sensitive. Those who don’t play by the party’s rules and run underground churches face frequent crackdowns.