..people familiar with the government’s deliberations say the removal of crosses here has set the stage for a new, nationwide effort to more strictly regulate spiritual life in China, reflecting the tighter control of society favored by President Xi Jinping.
In a major speech on religious policy last month, Mr. Xi urged the ruling Communist Party to “resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means,” and he warned that religions in China must “Sinicize,” or become Chinese. The instructions reflect the government’s longstanding fear that Christianity could undermine the party’s authority. Many human rights lawyers in China are Christians, and many dissidents have said they are influenced by the idea that rights are God-given.
In recent decades, the party had tolerated a religious renaissance in China, allowing most Chinese to worship as they chose and even encouraging the construction of churches, mosques and temples, despite regular crackdowns on unregistered congregations and banned spiritual groups such as Falun Gong.
Hundreds of millions of people have embraced the nation’s major faiths: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. There are now about 60 million Christians in China. Many attend churches registered with the government, but at least half worship in unregistered churches, often with local authorities looking the other way.
But Mr. Xi’s decision to convene a “religious affairs work conference” last month ”” the first such leadership meeting in 15 years ”” suggested that he was unhappy with some of these policies. People familiar with the party’s discussions say it intends to apply some lessons from the campaign in Zhejiang to rein in religious groups across the country.