On the evening of January 11, 2023, Nangang Church, covering an area of 1.33 acres, was forcibly demolished in Nangang Village, Feiyun Street, Ruian City, and Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province, in order to build commercial houses.
The Nangang Church, worth tens of millions of RMB, was torn down after the church did not agree with the local government’s compensation plan, in which the legal area was acknowledged while the illegal building area was about seven times larger, according to the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness.
In the end, there was no way to make a deal, so anti-riot police tore down the church at night. Local people revealed that about 500 people came, and a large crane worked for several hours, lasting from nighttime to daytime the next day.
A pastor in Wenzhou explained the details of the demolition. The main building of the church had three floors and could accommodate more than 2,000 people. Around 2003 or 2004, the church members who were not very aware of the law purchased rural land to build the church, which covered an area of 1.33 acres with a construction area of 6,900 square meters while the legal area was only 980 square meters.
In Wenzhou's most recent demolition compensation plan, the government offered to pay more than ten million dollars based on the legal construction area of the church. However, the church wanted to get more compensation, but the government was unwilling to pay. The two parties had been negotiating for two or three years, and their official leaders had changed many times, but they failed to come to an agreement.
There are historical contexts for such occurrences. More than 20 years ago, the policy for building churches was relatively loose. Church members found contacts and communicated with the leaders of the village committee; generally, they could get acquiescence in building churches.
Therefore, most churches in Wenzhou violated some regulations for church buildings. But since 2014, the rules for standardizing land use in many cities have become stricter, and illegal land use in many fields, including churches, has been checked more closely. Because of this, strict investigations of illegal land use by churches are very hard for them.
In addition, the thing that happened is also related to the growth of commercial land after urban development. When the demolition funds can't be negotiated, which has happened in Protestant, Catholic, and other historical and cultural religious lands, many buildings are torn down by force. This is done to help developers. The most typical case is that in August 2022, the 200-year-old Taiyuan Beihan Catholic Church, known as Taiyuan “Notre Dame de Paris," was demolished in the urban village renovation. This exposes the problem of how to deal with old buildings when building new cities.
How to deal with these historical old churches with cultural relic significance and the legacy of the church’s illegal use of land due to historical reasons more than 20 years ago are issues that all sectors of society, including authorities, developers, and religious groups, need to face and discuss. Sadly, there aren't many good examples so far. Solutions vary a lot from place to place, but most old buildings and churches could be torn down by the government.