Government’s Plan to Demolish Sanctuary Provoked Thousands of Catholics to Crawl Up Mountain in Dong’ergou, Shanxi

September 15, 2019

Location: Taiyuan, Shanxi

Participants: Estimates from various news sources vary, running as high as 10,000

By some estimates nearly ten thousand Catholic pilgrims travelled to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows (Qikushengmutang,七苦聖母堂) sitting atop of the Mount of the Seven Sorrows (七苦山) in Dong’ergou, Taiyuan, to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, 2019. This year, the pilgrims were alarmed by the imminent demolition of a structure at the Shrine, an order by the local government to the Taiyuan Diocese in late August 2019. Dong’ergou is a strongly Catholic region with many structures and sites sacred to local people.

On August 26, 2019, the local authorities instructed state-approved Bishop Paul Meng Ningyou (孟宁友) of the Taiyuan Diocese under the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to demolish an arch of the Shrine called the “Gate of Heaven” (Shangtianzimen,上天之门) on the grounds of “unlawful land occupation” (feifazhandi, 非法占地). Bishop Meng has been negotiating to preserve the landmark and succeeded in postponing the demolition until early October 2019. The authorities, however, not only forbade the local diocese to organize the annual pilgrimage, but also set up roadblocks and implemented traffic control measures to prevent pilgrims from reaching the Dong’ergou Marian Shrine. Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, social stability in the area was a top priority for the local authorities. On the day of the Feast, pilgrims who circumvented the restrictions spent hours walking uphill for at least three kilometers to reach the Shrine. There were no protests per se, as the authorities might have feared.

Several days before the Feast, on September 11, about one hundred Catholics crawled up to the Shrine, hoping that their hardship and prayer would be rewarded with a cancellation of the demolition plan.

It is not the first time that the local authorities announced plans to eradicate structures on the Mount of the Seven Sorrows. Last year, statues of the Twelve Apostles on the hilltop were forcibly removed. Despite the signing of the Sino-Vatican agreement in September 2018, the Chinese government launched a five-year campaign to sinicize religions early that year. Chinese practices are to be incorporated into Catholic practices, while structures and symbols that appear too religious are to be removed. The impact of sinicization has extended far beyond underground churches to the government-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

(Photo: Pilgrims crawling to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, Shanxi. Photo Credit: RFA)

Site Selection of an Incineration Plant Project Triggered Protests and Violent Suppression

June 28 – July 5, 2019

Location: Xinzhou District, Wuhan, Hubei

Participants: Estimates from various news sources vary, running as high as 10,000

News media reports claimed that up to ten thousand residents of Xinzhou District, Wuhan, took to the streets for at least one whole week from June 28 to July 5 to protest against the site selection of an incineration plant project. It is unclear as of this writing when the protests ended and whether the local government has yielded to public demand to terminate the incinerator project.

The Chenjiachong landfill, full to bursting with solid waste from over 300,000 residents in Yangluo subdistrict and nearby areas over the last decade, has been slammed for causing air pollution affecting nearby residents and even contaminating underground water. In May 2019, a report from a development research institute in Wuhan briefly revealed the government’s plan to replace the landfill by an economy-eco industrial park that would allegedly combine recreation and incineration. Wuhan’s urban management administration later responded to an online inquiry in June: an incinerator slated for construction in September would replace the landfill scheduled to cease operation in 2020. The decision, which only became public knowledge through the online response, did not receive any public comments.

On June 28, the Xinzhou District government announced on its official Weibo account the decision to hold off construction until a consensus among residents is reached. Residents concerned about cancerous gas emission and the exacerbation of Yangtze River pollution massed on the streets for days to voice objections to the proposed incinerator while holding banners with slogans such as “air pollution will harm the next generations.” Riot police with shields and batons were deployed to disperse protesters. In a letter issued on July 3, the Xinzhou government agreed not to push through the incinerator project without first conducting an environmental assessment and receiving public comments. It also reiterated that “the project will never start if people disagree with it.” The letter or other updates on the project, however, cannot be found on the Xinzhou government website nor its Weibo account as of September 2019.

Incinerator proposals in China have long been a major source of environmental concern, sparking scores of incidents of unrest despite authorities’ promise to put them on hold, including the Yunfu protest Dui Hua previously reported in June. While the incident garnered widespread media attention in early July not long after its outbreak, censorship on social media has prevented Wuhan locals from circulating updates about the protest. The status of the incinerator in Xinzhou remains unclear. Chinese state media cited anonymous analysts as saying that insufficient communication between the government and public, and the lack of transparent pollution data were the major reasons for public resentment. State media also commented that “allowing residents to participate in accessing and supervising the project from the beginning could help ease concern and build public confidence.”

(Photo: Protests over a proposed incinerator project, Wuhan. Image Credit: Weibo)