More churches in Zhejiang province have been told their crosses will be removed as the government moves to counter the influence of the mainland's rapidly growing Christian community.
Workers removed the cross atop the Yahui Church in Pingyang county, Wenzhou, early yesterday.
Worshippers were forced to accept the removal of the cross after local government threatened to tear down the whole church if they did not obey the order, a pastor said.
Yahui Church, with a congregation of more than 1,000, operates under the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement.
At least a dozen churches have received similar notices in recent weeks, and worshippers from at least three churches have vowed to fight the orders, another pastor said.
A member of the Chuiyang Church in Pingyang said the local government postponed the removal deadline from last Sunday to Friday and then extended it to tomorrow, but worshippers have so far refused to comply.
"We must resist … We will never remove the cross ourselves" she said. "This is a part of our faith."
Officials complained the cross on Chuiyang Church was too big and near a highway, local church leaders said.
Two trucks were parked in front of the church yesterday in case workers arrived without notice, and worshippers were ready to quickly gather if they did show up.
In Zhejiang, some 360 churches or crosses have been torn down since January in the "Three Rectifications and One Demolition" campaign, which according to the government was "targeting all illegal buildings, not just churches" said China Aid, a US-based religious rights group.
While opponents say the action amounts to religious persecution, local government officials say the campaign targets only structures that breach building codes.
In a rare move, churches in Pingyang issued a public letter on Tuesday in protest against the increasingly aggressive campaign to destroy their places of worship.
"[The removal of crosses in some churches] has caused deep panic among nearly a hundred thousand believers. It has led to … unrest," stated the letter, which was circulated online.
The letter said government leaders' fear of spreading Christianity was their motive for the crackdown.
"Some local governments choose to tear down the crosses rather than spend more effort cracking down on other illegal buildings," the letter said. "This amounts to considerable discrimination against the faith, and believers find it unacceptable."