The bulldozer death of a Chinese house church member is being likened to the Tiananmen Square protester, still unidentified, who stood in front of a row of tanks during the 1989 uprising.
Ding Cuimei was killed April 14 when she and her husband Li Jiangong stood in front of a bulldozer poised to destroy their home, where they had been hosting a house church in China’s Henan Province.
“Bulldozing and burying alive Ding Cuimei, a peaceful and devout Christian woman, was a cruel, murderous act,” said Bob Fu, president of China Aid, a key advocate for religious rights in China. Cuimei was killed by a two-man government-backed demolition crew, China Aid reported April 18.
Fu, in an interview with Baptist Press (BP), said the incident reflects the ever-escalating persecution of Christians in China, which has been among the U.S. State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” since 1999. North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia are among other CPCs.
“Last year, according to our own documentation, we have seen a worsening of the persecution against the churches, and in some areas it is the worst since the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s,” Fu told BP in the April 19 interview.
Cumei’s death came on the same day of a hearing on “China’s Pervasive Use of Torture” by the 22-member Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington, D.C.
Recounting Cuimei’s death in the central Chinese city of Zhumadian, China Aid reported that the bulldozer “shoved Li and Ding into a pit and covered their bodies with soil. Crying for help, Li was able to dig his way free, but Ding suffocated before she could be rescued.”
The two-man bulldozer crew was being detained while a criminal investigation was being conducted, according to an officer’s statements to a China Aid reporter.
“According to local Christians, the various government departments managing the area did not show up to oversee the demolition” stemming from a local developer’s plans for the property, China Aid reported. “Li himself reported that police took an uncommonly long time to arrive at the scene after a report of the murder was filed.”
Li has been pressured by the local Domestic Protection Security Squad, “trying to silence him, trying to even pressure him to change the story,” Fu told Baptist Press, likening the security organization, also known as “No. 1 Department,” to the former Soviet KGB.
“We need to really pray for this family, for Brother Li, [who experienced] quite a tragic murderous act,” Fu said.
Travis Wussow, director of international justice and religious freedom for Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement to Baptist Press, “We grieve the loss of Ding Cuimei and pray for Li Jiangong and his family during this difficult time. We call upon the global church to pray for those persecuted for their faith, and we urge the Chinese government to protect the religious liberty of all its citizens.”
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute in Washington, said in a statement to Baptist Press, “This brutal murder of a woman peacefully protesting the destruction of her church is the Christian parallel to the young demonstrator standing against the tank in Tiananmen Square, whose photo became the icon of the Chinese democracy movement.
“This anti-religious atrocity by Chinese authorities warrants the same level of world concern as that political atrocity did 27 years ago,” said Shea, a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern (ICC), another religious freedom advocacy organization, said the death of Ding Cuimei “has added to the storyline of how the Chinese government does not hold life to be precious. Rather than stopping, they decided to literally bulldoze human beings as they stood their ground to protect a house of worship.”
“While it does not hold the same historical weight as Tiananmen Square, it serves as a reminder of Chinese citizens standing in front of mammoth machines to stop what is clearly an injustice,” King said in an ICC news release April 19.
ICC stands with China Aid and other religious freedom allies in calling on the Chinese government “to bring those responsible to justice and to stop its oppressive pursuit of whitewashing Christianity from its shores,” King said.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, online at ccc.gov, heard from four witnesses during its April 14 session, including Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, and two torture survivors, Tibetan Buddhist monk Golog Jigme and Falun Gong practitioner Yin Liping.
The commission’s chairman, Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., said in his opening statement, “We are here today to shine a light on the brutal, illegal, and dehumanizing use of torture in China. … [T]here are some very dark places in China where torture is used regularly to punish and intimidate political and religious prisoners and their lawyers.
“We are also here to urge the U.S. government to make ending torture a higher priority in bilateral relations and to urge the Chinese government to fully enforce and implement its own laws,” Smith said. “A country with China’s global leadership aspirations should not engage in horrific practices so thoroughly condemned by the international community.”
The spectrum of torture victims in China, Smith noted, encompasses “human rights advocates and lawyers, union activists, members of non-state-controlled Christian churches, Falun Gong practitioners, and members of ethnic minority groups, like the Tibetans and Uyghurs.”
The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom’s latest report, in 2015 summarizing abuses during 2014, noted that “the Chinese government took steps to consolidate further its authoritarian monopoly of power over all aspects of its citizens’ lives. For religious freedom, this has meant unprecedented violations against Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Falun Gong practitioners. People of faith continue to face arrests, fines, denials of justice, lengthy prison sentences, and in some cases, the closing or bulldozing of places of worship.”
Fu told Baptist Press, “In Zhejiang Province alone [in southeast China last year], according to our records, over 2,000 churches were either demolished or their crosses, most of them, were forcibly destroyed, and a number of church leaders were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment up to 14 years for voicing their peaceful opposition to the forced demolition campaign [of house churches].”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)