Worshippers pray during a mass at the Liuhe Catholic Church on the outskirts of Qingxu county
Worshippers pray during a mass at the Liuhe Catholic Church in Liuhe village on the outskirts of Qingxu county, northern China.Reuters

A battle of wills is raging in the rural eastern village of Wuxi in China between the atheist government and Christian church-goers.

Crews hired by China's Communist government have begun tearing down crosses and crucifixes atop churches.

In Wuxi, which is 300 miles south of Shanghai, the church has had its water and electricity cut off and officials have attempted to install surveillance cameras on the building, local media has reported.

The Associated Press also reports that officials have inquired about several church members' work and their children's schooling and made "veiled threats" that jobs and education may be at risk.

One church member used his welding torch to put a metal cross back up on the small, one-room church after it was torn down by a government crew.

He was then detained and questioned for 10 hours on the charge of operating a welding business without a licence.

Across the Zhejiang province on China's southeastern coast, authorities have toppled or threatened to topple crosses at more than 130 churches.

It is thought the province has come under scrutiny because it is home to Wenzhou, a city of 8 million that has 2,000 churches and has become known as "China's Jerusalem".

It has also been reported that the government has gone as far as to raize sanctuaries in the area.

The government say the buildings in question violate building codes and deny specifically targeting churches, pointing to the demolition of tens of thousands of other buildings, religious and non-religious, that break regulations.

Gauging the number of Christians in China is difficult because the government does not count religious affiliation. Figures released by the Pew Research Centre estimated there were 58 million Protestants in China in 2011 and 9 million Catholics in the year before, with many meeting in secret.

The church's dramatic growth "and Christian's loyalty to God above all else" has "alarmed authorities", according to an expert on religious matters in China.

Yang Fenggang said: "Although Chinese Christians are generally apolitical, their weekly gatherings and mutual support could prove dangerous if the movement adopts political objectives.

"The church is resilient in resisting government pressures and persecutions."

It has been suggested that the real number of Christians in China could outnumber the 85-million-member Communist Party.