Communist party bans believers in province of ‘China’s Jerusalem’

Officials in Zhejiang province, south-east China, will reinforce a ban on admitting new Communist party members who practise religion, suggesting that a protracted crackdown on Christianity in the province will continue.

Last year, Zhejiang officials cracked down on churches Wenzhou, often called “China’s Jerusalem” for its reputation as a religious stronghold and where about an eighth of 8 million residents are Christian, according to state media.

Government-backed demolition crews forced hundreds of churches to remove prominently placed crosses, despite elaborate protests and sit-ins by congregants. Some of the buildings were branded “illegal structures” and demolished entirely.

Zhejiang authorities made the announcement on Friday, and the state-run Global Times newspaper reported them late on Sunday night.

“Party members are banned from joining religions. Believing in communism and atheism is a basic requirement to become a party member,” Li Yunlong, a professor at the Party School of the Communist party of China central committee, told the newspaper. “This could be a part of efforts against the penetration of western hostile forces.”

While the Communist party considers itself an atheist organisation, authorities recognise five “official” religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism, and Taoism. Party members have long been banned from openly embracing any faith – they are encouraged to hold Marxism as their highest ideal.

Yet the Zhejiang authorities stressed that a pre-screening examination for aspiring party members “should be improved and implemented”, according to the Global Times, suggesting that the policy is unevenly enforced.

The newspaper added that party members in the province would be subjected to a Marxist education campaign and “need to submit a written promise rejecting religion beliefs”.

In December, Wenzhou banned schools from holding Christmas-related events, according to state media reports. Local officials “hope schools can pay more attention to Chinese traditional festivals instead of western traditions”, the Global Times reported.