The action underscores long-standing tensions between religious groups and the officially atheistic Communist Party that strives for complete political and social control.
Witnesses and overseas activists say paramilitary People’s Armed Police forces used excavators and dynamite on Tuesday to destroy the Golden Lampstand Church in the city of Linfen, southern Shanxi province.
The Church was surrounded by officials, while cranes and bulldozers which methodically reduced the large building to rubble, according to a witness who spoke to RFA.
The authorities thwarted efforts by congregants to halt the demolition and pressured them to remain silent, according to RFA.
UG Christian News has learnt that hundreds of police and hired thugs smashed the same church and seized Bibles in an earlier crackdown in 2009.
Global Times, a state newspaper, described the building’s destruction as part of a “citywide campaign to remove illegal buildings,” and quoted an unidentified official as saying that the church had been “secretly” constructed without proper permits and was initially disguised as a warehouse.
While freedom of religion is supposedly guaranteed in China, Beijing’s stability-obsessed leaders are deeply suspicious of any organisation which does not come under its rigid controls.
CEO of US-based religious campaign group ChinaAid, Bob Fu said: “I think this might be a new pattern against any independent house churches with an existing building or intention to build one,”
“It also could be a prelude to enforcing the new regulation on religious affairs that will take effect in February,” he added.
Bob Fu said the repeated persecution of Golden Lampstand Church demonstrates that the Chinese government has no respect for religious freedom or human rights.
The Golden Lampstand church was built a decade ago and cost a total of 17m yuan (£1.9m) at the time, according to the head pastor Yang Rongli.
Yang previously spent seven years in jail on charges of “assembling a crowd to disturb traffic order” and has been under police surveillance since her release in October 2016, according to China Aid.