When we reached Sanjiang, in Zhejiang province, an elderly woman was angrily telling the pastor how at the end of April police dispersed members of her congregation and neighbouring ones who had come to protect their new Protestant church from being bulldozed. Several pastors were arrested and many detained, including those from the Sanjiang church – one of the officially sanctioned (and government controlled) “patriotic” churches. Many supporters were also arrested, including pastors from the underground house church movement. One, who asked to be referred to only as W, escaped the police raid by hiding in a nearby warehouse.
For years, during her evening walks, the woman had watched the construction work taking place on the massive church, which was just a few hundred metres along the main road from her house. When we were there in May, flashing lights warned us of the police roadblock that had closed off access to the church weeks ago, after the Chinese government ordered it to be pulled down. “They want to remove every trace,” said W. The old woman added: “During the Cultural Revolution they burned Bibles, but they didn’t remove the crosses.” The old church survived the Cultural Revolution, but in such a dilapidated state that it was converted into a mat-weaving factory.