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Time to take up the cross again

WENZHOU (UCAN): The province of Zhejiang has been through a highly controversial period over the past four years, as Christians have been forced to watch more than 1,700 crosses being removed from Church buildings by government authorities.
 
But now that the secretary of the Communist Party that gave the demolition orders is moving on, some people think that it is time to take up the cross again.
 
Mooted as a way of celebrating the departure of Xia Baolong, who has come to the end of his career and is being moved sideways to an old boys’ assignment in Beijing, re-erecting the crosses, which mostly have been stored at Church buildings, is being pushed as a farewell gesture to the iconoclastic party secretary.
 
The proposal has come from some Protestant pockets in the area and it began circulating on social media not long after it was known that Xia would be on his way.
 
The reaction came after the state-run news agency, Xinhua, announced on April 27 that Xia had been appointed vice director of the Environmental and Resources Protection Committee in the National People’s Congress.
 
There were also some in a pocket of Protestant pastors who “suggested all Churches in Zhejiang should hold a thanksgiving gathering and light firecrackers together to bid farewell to Xia Baolong.”
 
Some bloggers displayed icons of animated firecrackers in chat groups to show their delight at Xia’s departure, as his new appointment means that his political career has effectively come to an end.
 
“It is general practice to send retired officials to specialised committees in the National People’s Congress, which have no real power. Xia Baolong is finished,” a delighted Luke, a pastor in Zhejiang, who also circulated the appeal, commented.
 
Xia has now reached the magical age of 65, the time of official retirement, with the only way up being to the Politburo, according to the practices of the Communist Party.
 
Xia’s new appointment came in quite a contrary manner to the recent rumours that suggested he would attain a more important position in Beijing that could lead him into the Politburo, as many observers see him as a close aide to the president, Xi Jinping.
 
Xia was a subordinate to Xi when the current president was the governor and party secretary of Zhejiang from 2002 to 2007.
 
News of Xia’s appointment came on the eve of the third anniversary of the 28 April 2014 demolition of Sanjiang Protestant Church.
 
The same social media appeal called on Christians to pray for the rebuilding of the Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou. The government said the demolition was due to the structure being illegally built. For a month Christians tried blocking state efforts to destroy the building, which drew worldwide attention.
 
Zhejiang has an estimated two million Protestant and 210,000 Catholic population, while the city of Wenzhou has one million in its Protestant and 150,000 in its Catholic numbers.
 
In the name of a three-year city planning programme, the cross-removal campaign began in late 2013.
 
Before the campaign subtly ended in April last year, there were frequent reports of physical clashes between the security officers and Christians. Influential pastors and Church leaders were likewise detained, while lawyers who defended them were arrested.
 
The local authorities also introduced a new regulation to limit the display of religious symbols to curb development of Christianity in the province.

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