Children in a kindergarten in Kaifeng, Henan, learn about the life of national icon Lei Feng on “Learn from Lei Feng Day” on 1 March 2013, celebrating his moral character.

Local authorities in China’s east-central Henan Province have removed a number of crosses from churches closed a church-run kindergarten and asked Christian residents in one city to register.

The “two or three” crosses that have been forcibly removed from churches were located in Yichuan county, and were taken down because they were illegally built, an official from the Ethnic and Religion Bureau of Yichuan told the state-run Global Times newspaper on Monday (9 April). “Activities in the illegally-built parishes will be prohibited”, he said. “Other legal Christian activities here will remain open,” he said, adding that the government was targeting unregulated activities, not Christians.

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s government has sought to increase control over religious affairs and practice in the country resulting in, among others, the controversial cross-removal campaign in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang.

Focus on Henan

Meanwhile in Henan’s northern Anyang city, Christians living in Pingyuan community were asked to register in an apparent bid to increase their control over Christians there. Christians received a request to take part in a census, according to the Global Times. An anonymous employee at the neighbourhood committee that has been tasked with executing the census told the newspaper that participation was not compulsory.

Last month, also in Anyang, a church-run kindergarten in Weihui parish was shut down by officials. A source from the state-approved Catholic Church told the Catholic news website UCAN that Tian-ai Kindergarten, run by Zhifang Church, was “disqualified”. Police posted warnings on the gates of the school twice, on 14 February and 14 March, and then sealed them late last month, leaving its 60-70 pupils to find another school to go to.

“Nearby kindergartens which are run much more badly [sic] were not seized,” a source told UCAN. “Only the one run by the church.” “Authorities pay more attention to kindergartens run by Christians,” a local source told World Watch Monitor.

Home of the house church

The source said that “religious restrictions are generally tighter in Henan than in other places”, increasingly so following the new Regulations for Religious Affairs that came into force on 1 February. These include detailed criteria for religious organisations to meet in order to be registered or to establish a place for religious activities.

Henan is also the province where the rural house church movement started that saw the establishment of “underground”, unregistered churches that meet in people’s homes. Two of the main rural house church networks operated from Henan, and there are also many cults in the province. This causes particular sensitivities with local authorities, who want to bring unregistered churches and other faith-based organisations under government control, the source said.

But “local authorities are very careful in implementation of religious regulations. They don’t want to do it too little, as compared with those in other regions, in particular after the strong speech by the leadership. They also don’t want to overdo it as it may disturb the harmonious relationship with the Church . And then it would cause trouble, in case the churches respond strongly to the implementation through involvement of overseas media or demonstrations. They [the local authorities] have to deal with it prudently unless they have the consensus of their superiors,” the source added.

Church-run kindergarten closed in Beijing

Meanwhile in the capital, Beijing, local authorities also closed a church-run kindergarten, last month.

Officials raided the Beatitudes Public Kindergarten and prevented teachers and parents from entering it for three days late last month. About 40 officials broke into the kindergarten and confiscated books and desks. The parents asked the authorities who their superiors are, but they refused to answer.

Kindergarten teacher Zhu Bin told the US-based advocacy group ChinaAid: “Several security guards sat in front of the gate all night long … The parents and teachers were outside the kindergarten, trying to retrieve their personal belongings, but the security guards did not let them in.”

Pastor Joseph Cui was held in a patrol car for half an hour, and one of the parents was injured and taken to hospital. The kindergarten is on the same site as the Aijiabei Church that runs it. The government is urging the landlord to evict the congregation.