Chinese officials have reportedly ordered some Christians to smash the crosses on their churches and remove images of Jesus from their homes.
Authorities have recently destroyed religious symbols by force in churches in multiple provinces, including Anhui, Jiangsu, Hebei and Zhejiang, according to US-based news site Radio Free Asia.
Furthermore, officials of Shanxi, another region, demanded religious images be taken down and replaced with pictures of Communist leaders at the homes of impoverished believers, said independent outlet Bitter Winter.
The reports come as China is facing unprecedented criticism against its tight control over its religious population, especially the Muslim ethnic minorities.
Officials in charge of religious affairs in Huainan in the eastern province of Anhui allegedly barged into the local Shiwan Christ Church to dismantle its cross on Saturday and Sunday.
The officials had required the church to take down its cross a week earlier, reported Radio Free Asia citing local sources.
When they arrived at the venue to impose the order by force at the weekend, they were met with dozens of believers who had gathered to try to prevent them from bulldozing the holy sign, the article claimed.
Similar scenes were said to occur in Yongjia in Zhejiang Province on July 7.
The local government sent a crane and nearly 100 workers to demolish the crosses on Ao’di Christ Church and Yinchang Christ Church, according to US-based pressure group China Aid.
Local believers told the group that government workers forced their way into the churches, smashed the churches’ properties and beat up the Christians, including a woman in her 80s, who tried to stop them.
China Aid, founded by American-Chinese pastor Bob Fu, also released pictures which purported to show a heavy machine lifting a cross off one church and government workers standing in front of another.
Elsewhere in China, a local government of Linfen in Shanxi Province summoned all village officials and directed them to crack down on religious activity, reported Bitter Winter.
Village officials were instructed to remove crosses, religious symbols and images from the homes of some people of faith, wrote the magazine that focuses on religious liberty and human rights in China.
The government was said to be targeting poverty-stricken residents who received social welfare payments, and those families must instead display portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi Jinping.
China’s ruling Communist Party has carried out a widespread clampdown on all religious institutions in recent years.
Relevant directives included bulldozing churches and mosques, barring Tibetan children from Buddhist religious studies and incarcerating more than a million members of Islamic ethnic minorities in the so-called ‘re-education’ camps.
President Xi Jinping has ordered that all religions must ‘Sinicise’ to ensure they are loyal to the officially atheistic party.
Late last year, the Chinese central government ordered its censors to review and edit all translated versions of classic religious books to make sure that their messages reflect the principles of Socialism.
The new editions must not contain any content that goes against the beliefs of the Communist Party, according to the country’s top officials on religious matters.
The officials said that paragraphs deemed wrong by the censors would be amended or re-translated.
The order was given in November during a meeting held by the Committee for Ethnic and Religious Affairs of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which oversees the ethnic and religious matters in China.
A group of 16 experts, believers and representatives of different religions from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China attended the conference, according to Xinhua News Agency.
The meeting was supervised by Wang Yang, Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Mr Wang stressed that religious authorities must follow President Xi’s instructions and interpret the ideologies of different religions in accordance with ‘the core values of Socialism’ and ‘the requirements of the era’.
He urged the officials to build ‘a religious system with Chinese characteristics’.