Chinese bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of the coastal city of Wenzhou, Zhejiang, was released on Wednesday (3 January) after being detained for seven months – the second high-profile church leader released in the past two weeks.
It is thought international pressure helped secure the bishop’s release, according to AsiaNews. In June last year the German ambassador to China, Michael Clauss, made an official request that Zhumin be released. The Vatican also expressed its concern.
After the ‘underground’ bishop, who is not recognised by the government, was taken from his diocese by security officials in April, he resurfaced in a Beijing hospital in September, reportedly to undergo ear surgery.
Bishop Shao was appointed as bishop of Wenzhou, which has a large Christian community, in September 2016.
Since his appointment, he has been abducted more than once; AsiaNews reports that the bishop had been pressured by police to join the Patriotic Association, a Communist Party body which wants independence from the Vatican for the Church in China.
Protestant pastor also freed
Two weeks earlier, on 22 December, another church leader was released from prison after corruption charges against him were dropped, as the Christian Times reported.
Gu Yuese (also known as Joseph Gu), the former senior pastor of the largest official Protestant church in China, the Chongyi Church in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang, had been re-arrested on 7 January 2017, a year after being arrested on the same charges. (He had been released on bail in March 2016, but kept under police surveillance.)
Rights groups claimed his detention was “politically motivated” and related to his public opposition to the government’s removal of crosses from churches in Zhejiang.
Meanwhile, on 20 December local authorities demolished a Catholic church in Zhifang, a village in Huyi District, in the central province of Shaanxi. According to AsiaNews no explanation was given for the destruction of the church, which was built in line with regulations almost 20 years ago. The church’s cross was also destroyed, and items from the church, including liturgical objects, taken away.
Parents ignore religious-teaching ban
Despite a recent clampdown on Sunday schools by the Chinese authorities, Christian parents in Wenzhou continue to teach their children about the Christian faith because, they say, state education does not offer the moral and spiritual guidance their children need in navigating life.
Last summer, children were banned from attending Christian camps in several provinces, while notices were issued in others banning all school children, and their teachers, from going to church.
“Since then churches Wenzhou have started teaching children in private homes or at other venues”, according to Reuters.
“Drugs, porn, gambling and violence are serious problems among today’s youth and video games are extremely seductive,” one parent told Reuters. “We cannot be by his side all the time so only through faith can we make him understand [the right thing to do].”
World Watch Monitor reported in December how all Christmas activities in schools and kindergartens in Wenzhou had also been forbidden, while a university in north-eastern China had banned Christmas to help students resist the “corrosion of Western religious culture”.
In September the government passed a new set of rules regulating religious affairs that included guidelines on religious education, the types of religious organisations that can exist, where they can exist and the activities they can organise. The new regulations come into force on 1 February 2018.