Chinese government ordered the demolition of gravestones of Swedish missionaries for converting thousands of Chinese citizens to Christianity nearly a century ago.
Claiming the structures were “illegal,” over 100 special police and public security officers and personnel from various government institutions blocked Xiezhou cemetery located in the Yanhu district of Yuncheng on Sept. 12.
A short time later, three excavators were brought in to destroy the gravestones of 20 Swedish missionaries buried in the cemetery, along with the adjoining guest house, designating it, too, as an “illegal construction.” During the demolition, aerial drones flew overhead and monitored the destruction, according to Bitter Winter.
“Swedish missionaries bought a plot in Yuncheng’s Xiezhou town cemetery for themselves,” an elderly Christian from Yuncheng told Bitter Winter. “This meant that they devoted their hearts, souls, and entire lives to China.”
The missionaries served in Yuncheng before expanding to other areas in Shanxi and adjoining provinces of Henan and Shaanxi. Verner, along with the other missionaries, helped build 60 churches with over 6,000 members. They also established Yucheng Hospital, which residents could use for free. The hospital is credited with saving thousands of lives.
The demolished gravestones were established in 2008 by the Church of Christ’s Family, a local house church established in 2008 to honor missionaries with the Swedish Mission in China, including Verner Wester, who lived in China from 1903 to 1930, and his six family members.
The Church of Christ’s Family (基督家園教會), a local house church established in 2008, ordered to make gravestones for the 20 Swedish missionaries in the Xiezhou cemetery. The Church also established contacts and communicated with Verner Wester’s granddaughter Mick Lidbeck, who recounted her grandfather’s story in the book Min farfar i Kina (My Grandfather in China).
Protestant missionary Verner Wester and his six family members were buried nearly a century ago in the Swedish missionary cemetery in Xiezhou town, administered by the Yanhu district of Yuncheng, a prefecture-level city in the northern province of Shanxi. He was a member of the Swedish Mission in China (Svenska Missionen i Kina (SMK)), who lived in China from 1903 to 1930.
In a short time, the cemetery started attracting Christians who came to pay respects to the missionaries and pray. To accommodate them, the Church of Christ’s Family renovated an old four-room house near the cemetery and displayed a series of photographs depicting missionaries’ work in China. The move immediately drew the local government’s attention.
In addition to establishing gravestones for the missionaries in the Xiezhou cemetery, the church contacted Wester’s family and renovated an old four-room house near the cemetery to accommodate visitors who came to pay respects to the missionaries and pray. The house also displayed a series of photographs depicting the missionaries’ work in China.
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Following the demolition, the Church of Christ’s Family was blacklisted by the government and targeted for priority surveillance because of contacts with Verner Wester’s family in Sweden.
To conceal the demolition, government-hired personnel planted vegetation atop the ruins overnight. A government insider told Bitter Winter that all villagers living near the cemetery were summoned to the local police station prior to the demolition, and their cellphones were confiscated to prevent information leaks.
A member of the Church of Christ’s Family told Bitter Winter that the Chinese Communist Party often portrays missionaries in a negative light, depicting them in films and novels “as spies cooperating with imperialist countries to invade China.”
China is ranked number 23 on Pesercution Watchdog, Open Door 2020 list of top 50 countries where it is most deadly to be a christian.