After government topples crosses in China, congregations react with defiance
In Yongjia county, the government says it has demolished thousands of illegal structures totaling 3 million square meters, including businesses, residences and religious sites.
Some churches have taken steps to protect their crosses.
Cai, the man who left his cosmetics shop in Shanghai, now takes turns with other members to guard Yayu Christian Church in Yaxia village around the clock. They are camped out on a balcony overlooking an expanse of ripening rice paddies to spot any demolition crew coming down the road.
Early one morning, watchers spotted a truck approaching and quickly mobilized about 100 people to block the men from coming up the steps to the sanctuary, successfully thwarting them, Cai said.
In nearby Zengshan village, after church members received a government warning in early July to remove its cross, members piled up rocks in front of the main gate and dumped a couple of sheds behind it. It also raised banners urging the authorities to respect Chinese law on religious freedom and proper procedures for demolition.
"The cross is our life, and there is no room for compromise," said Pastor Xie Zuokua. "With no other means, we are resorting to our own abilities to defend the cross."
To Xie, it's clear this is more than just a matter of building code violations.
"It's the symbol of the death of Jesus and it's the symbol that people can be saved," he said. "So if they want to come and tear down the cross — that's because they are discriminating against us Christians."
Associated Press producer Aritz Parra contributed to this report.
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