NASHVILLE (BP) — The death of a Chinese Christian woman beneath the rubble of her bulldozed church has sparked a step of contrition by local authorities — the now-vacant lot is the undisputed property of the grieving congregation.
China Aid, a key advocacy organization for religious freedom in China, attributed the local action to international pressure after the killing of Ding Cuimei.
Cuimei was killed when she and her husband, Li Jiangong, stood in front of a bulldozer before it demolished Beitou Church on April 14 to prepare for a developer’s use of the property in central China’s Henen Province.
“Despite the victory for his church, Li Jiangong is concerned about the lack of action regarding his wife’s death,” China Aid reported in an April 27 news release.
“Though two members of the demolition crew were criminally detained at the time of the incident, authorities have released no information regarding their possible charges.”
A human rights lawyer from Beijing, Li Dunyong, will represent Cuimei’s family, China Aid reported. “After an autopsy, Ding’s body was placed in a preservative case under a temporary tent near the site where she was killed” in the city of Zhumadian.
Her husband managed to dig himself out of the debris while Cuimei died by suffocation.
The murder stirred a church in coastal China’s Zhejiang Province to block the bulldozer demolition of its building, China Aid reported on April 22.
As recounted by China Aid:
“When Christians from Yingmochen Church, a house church in Ningbo, Zhejiang, heard that authorities had ordered the demolition of their church building on April 18, they rushed to the scene to pray and sing Christian songs. An estimated 100 church members showed up and successfully deterred the demolition team from carrying out their plan.”
China Aid quoted one Yingmochen church member as declaring, “We have been plundered and coerced, and our lives are full of all kinds of danger. There was a [Christian] sister who was buried alive.”
On April 13, however, another church in Zhejiang Province was demolished, with authorities claiming that the Island Head Christian Church in the city of Wenzhou had been “illegally constructed,” China Aid reported.
“Church leaders and other attendees resisted the demolition at first, but relented after officials threatened the protesters,” China Aid reported in an April 26 news release. “One of the church attendees estimated that a value of approximately 3 million Yuan (U.S. $460,000) was lost in the destruction of the three-story church building.”
Since 2014, China Aid stated, “authorities across the Zhejiang Province have demolished more than 2,000 church crosses, with at least 50 destroyed in Wenzhou during the month of March alone. The removal of crosses is part of an ongoing ‘beautification’ campaign known as ‘Three Rectifications and One Demolition.’ Authorities often claim that church buildings or crosses have been constructed illegally as justification for the demolitions.”
The bulldozer death of Ding Cuimei and church demolitions reflect the ever-escalating persecution of Christians in China, China Aid President Bob Fu said.
“Last year, according to our own documentation, we have seen a worsening of the persecution against the churches, and in some areas it is the worst since the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s,” Fu told Baptist Press in an April 19 interview.
China has been among the U.S. State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” since 1999 for its oppression of Christians and other religious minorities.
The Henan Province site of Beitou Church was guaranteed to the congregation by “a special task force consisting of the township government, the local ministry of land and resources and a village administrative committee” which declared that “the land where the incident took place is the property of [pastor] Li Jiangong and Beitou Church,” as phrased by China Aid. “A report issued by the task force declares that no individual or other organization should claim land from the church, and designates the site for religious use.”
Fu said he is “glad to see that the local authorities acted swiftly and fairly under international pressure to resolve the church’s right to their land” yet “we are concerned that justice for the family of the martyr is still not done.”
“Pastor Li’s wife, Sister Ding Cuimei, was brutally killed on April 14. We appeal to the Chinese authorities to hold those criminal perpetrators accountable with a fair investigation and standard judicial process with full justice and unhindered legal representation by Beijing-based human rights lawyer Li Dunyong.”