Chinese authorities crack down on all things religious, including venues of indigenous religions that have been an integral part of life in rural areas for years.
by Huang Tianyi
Scattered throughout rural China, folk religion temples are also severely suppressed amid the government’s sweeping campaign to shut down and destroy places of worship. The southwestern province of Sichuan is no exception. From last October to May this year, at least 160 folk religion venues were leveled to the ground or shut down in Sichuan’s Suining, Mianyang, Nanchong, and Meishan cities. Half of them were destroyed amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Most of the stifled temples were in Suining city in east Sichuan—116. On May 30, government-hired workers smashed all statues in the Jinhai Temple in Suining-administered Dayu town. The temple was leveled to the ground the next day. A worker who took part in the demolition told Bitter Winter that he did not want to ruin the temple, but he said that “the orders came from the provincial government to implement the national policy,” and there was nothing he could do.
The Qinglong Mountain Temple in Dayu was demolished on May 28. A town resident recounted that the temple’s director was lured to the village committee that day, while workers were sent to raze the temple. All statues of deities in the venue had been torn down before, some as early as January 17, including a 6-meter-tall thousand-hand Guanyin statue.
“Some workers tied a rope to the head of the statue and pulled it down, while others were hitting it with iron hammers,” another town resident remembered. “The four of them smashed it completely in a very short time.” He added that 24 statues in a town’s Taoist venue were destroyed on January 2.
On May 3, the government of Heshan town in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, ordered to level two folk religion temples on the grounds of “illegal construction.” Since the venues had not been notified ahead of the demolition, all their belongings were buried in ruins, and more than 50 statues inside them could not be preserved.
Accompanied by 12 police officers, government officials brought in an excavator to demolish the Guanyin Temple in Mianyang’s Guandi town in the second half of last year. The venue’s director has not been informed beforehand, so she rushed to the site when she learned about it and tried to stop the demolition. Police officers threatened to kill her with electric batons if she intervened. According to an eyewitness, the elderly woman lost consciousness for about 20 minutes while watching the temple being razed to the ground. Such violent acts by the government are especially hard on managers of demolished temples since they spend most of their lives building and guarding them.
On November 26, about 200 police officers and officials from the Religious Affairs Bureau came to the Jade Emperor Hall in Meishan’s Dongpo district. They blocked the roads leading to the venue and blew up the temple with all its statues inside in just three hours.
“So many disasters are happening now because the government has demolished too many temples and offended the Heavens,” a local lay Buddhist commented.