China in crusade to remove crosses from churches

Up to 1,200 places of worship have been subjected to crackdown

Raw: Chinese Officials Crack Down On Crosses

Authorities in parts of China are believed to be under a two-month deadline to remove crosses from the spires, vaults, roofs and wall arches of churches.

A Communist party campaign during which crosses have been stripped from the roofs of more than 1,200 Chinese churches is being conducted "for the sake of safety and beauty", a government official has claimed.

Human rights activists accuse authorities in Zhejiang province in eastern China of using the protracted campaign to slow Christianity's growth in what is one of the country's most churchgoing regions.

By some estimates, China is now home to 100 million Christians, compared with the Communist party's 88 million members, reports The Guardian.

Since the government campaign began in late 2013, hundreds of places of worship have had bright red crosses removed. Some churches have been completely demolished, while civil servants have been banned from practising religion.

Some observers suspect the campaign has the backing of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and could be a 'pilot project' before a nationwide crackdown.

Crosses removed over 'safety concerns'

However, an official from Zhejiang's ethnic and religious affairs bureau told the state-run Global Times newspaper the government had "merely relocated the crosses out of safety concerns".

There is growing anger among China's rapidly growing Christian community over the campaign. Removals and demolitions have gathered pace in recent weeks despite several protests.

This week, Catholic leaders in Wenzhou, a city known as China's Jerusalem because of its large Christian population, circulated an open letter claiming the removals had got "completely out of control".