Local authorities in China’s central Henan province have stipulated that all churches must have a Chinese flag on display and sing the national anthem at each gathering.
In the “Special Emergency Notice” circulated earlier this month, they also asked clergy to collect data on their members, especially on those from poor families, reports Catholic news agency UCAN.
A local priest who did not wish to be named told UCAN he would not cooperate as he feared that those he reported on could be denied state subsidies as a retribution for practicing their faith.
“This is totally unacceptable,” he said. “I suspect their hidden agenda may be to cancel people’s low-income subsidies.”
The government says it needs the information to improve the way in which churches are managed, but the priest said he believed the information would be used to clamp down further on religious activity in the province.
The notice also stipulated that religious leaders must report on the number and backgrounds of those who attend their services, and also of venues where neon lights are used and speakers have been installed. They must also provide a list of names of clergy, so authorities can check whether they have permission to preach.
The authorities will regularly check religious venues to see how the new rules have been implemented, the notification said.
UCAN did not specify whether other religious groups in Henan have also received similar notifications.
China’s government has tightened religious regulations this year, with a notable increase in efforts to suppress religion in Henan in particular. There have been numerous incidents in the province this year, such as barring minors from entering churches, and closures of churches and church-run initiatives like kindergartens.
One hundred churches were closed in the city of Nanyang, southwest Henan, in the month of March alone, according to Aaron Ma, an Asia-based researcher for the Christian charity Open Doors International.
The researcher said local contacts had said “Christians who used their own church building for meetings were targeted, and their buildings closed”. Consequently, the researcher said, Christians had gone back to meeting in private homes.
Henan is the province where the rural ‘house church’ movement started and where two of the main rural networks are based, a local source told World Watch Monitor, creating tensions as local authorities want to bring unregistered churches under their control.