After the CCP ordered a crackdown on religious statues, many were modified in bizarre ways as this was the only alternative to destruction. Bitter Winter here collects several typical cases for our readers.
On May 23, 2018, the central United Front Work Department held a meeting aimed at cracking down on large open-air religious statues. At the meeting, the officials claimed this work as part of the political task to implement the central government’s religious policies. They called for every local government across the country to intensify management and control over large open-air religious statues, requiring them to “specify the responsibilities and make clear their work schedule” and “ensure the completion of the task before the specified date.”
After the order was issued, religious statues across China were systematically suppressed. Open-air religious statues are now “regulated” one after another. Some are demolished, and some are forced to be coved. Even statues in famous scenic areas have not been spared. Buddhist and Taoist statues are confronted with the worst catastrophe since the Cultural Revolution.
To save religious statues from demolition, believers and the staff of scenic areas throughout China racked their brains to find ideas. The mind-blowing and bizarre “art” created to modify statues and prevent demolition made people laugh. At the same time, many were indignant at the CCP’s wanton suppression of religions and waste of manpower and resources.
“First Guanyin of Shandong” given a facelift to look like Confucius
In Autumn 2018, the local government officials of Chengdongbu village under the jurisdiction of Pingdu City’s Development Zone, in the eastern province of Shandong, received an order from the government prohibiting the spread of “feudal and superstitious” activities. Inter alia, they should demolish the “Holy Spring” Guanyin statue located in the village’s Holy Water Pond Folk Culture Park. The statue was built at the cost of more than 2,000,000 RMB (about US$ 300,000). To prevent the statue from being demolished, the village Party committee spent over 400,000 RMB (about US$ 60,000) to modify the statue into a hybrid with the body of Guanyin and the head of Confucius. The reasoning was that, since Confucius is regarded as the most significant sage of traditional Chinese culture, a statue to commemorate him should not be deemed superstitious.
In May 2019, this sinicization folly attracted attention after being exposed and mocked abroad. To avoid being ridiculed, the CCP tried to cover the truth by dismantling the bizarre hybrid statue in secret.
4A-level scenic area in Liaoning: Guanyin statue given a facelift; Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva statue wrapped up
The Mount Jiuhua Scenic Area, located in Linghai city of the northeastern province of Liaoning, is a national 4A-level tourist attraction. In this area, the statue of bodhisattva Samantabhadra or Universal Virtue was modified beyond recognition. The body of the deity was removed and replaced with a composition that symbolizes the harvest of crops.
The statue of Guanyin – the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy – was modified to look like Chang’e – the Goddess of the Moon in the Chinese mythology – by changing her hairdo: adding a bun and braids. The original Buddhist inscription on the base of the statue has been replaced with “Chang’e flies to the Moon.” To prevent its demolition, a pavilion has been built to house the statue, and now the locals mock that people come to worship a mythological Chinese goddess in a Buddhist-style pavilion.
In Autumn of 2018, the authorities used concrete and white insulation board to cover up a giant Buddha statue in the same scenic area. The reason given by the authorities was that the government had not approved the Buddha statue.
Dahebei Ecological Garden Cemetery in Tieling, Liaoning: Head of the “Four-Faced Guanyin” statue modified in the shape of a flower
In May 2019, Dahebei Ecological Garden Cemetery in Tieling county, under the jurisdiction of Tieling city in the northeastern province of Liaoning, was forced to give a Guanyin statue a “facelift” to protect it from being dismantled. The “Four-Faced Guanyin” statue inside the cemetery measures about 20 meters in height. In a renovation project that lasted more than three months, the statue’s head was re-decorated in the shape of a lotus flower. Now, the icon doesn’t look like Guanyin – the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy – anymore.
Junlongquan Cemetery in Tieling, Liaoning: Statue of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva modified into “wordless marble stela”
An over-10-meter-tall statue of the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, located inside Tieling county’s Junlongquan Cemetery, was covered twice to prevent it from being demolished. The first time, it was concealed with galvanized iron sheets, with The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars written on them. But local officials decided that it wasn’t enough, and the person in charge of the cemetery was forced to surround the Buddhist statue with marble slabs.
Shengquan cemetery in Fujian: Dripping-Water Guanyin statue transformed to look like artificial mountain
In April, the local United Front Work Department ordered to tear down the 21-meter-tall Dripping-Water Guanyin statue in Shengquan cemetery, located in the Jin’an district of Fuzhou, the capital of the southeastern province of Fujian. Hoping to save the statues, the person in charge of the cemetery negotiated with the local government to allow him to hide them by constructing artificial mountains, made from reinforced concrete.
Daoist cultural heritage land of Laojun Mountain in Henan: world’s tallest bronze statue of Laozi covered
On October 11, 2018, a statue of Laozi (also known as Lao-Tzu and Lao Tze) in Luoyang city, in Henan province in central China, was covered and hidden from view with yellow cloth. The Laozi statue on the Daoist cultural heritage land of Laojun Mountain is 38 meters tall and was cast with 360 tons of a tin-bronze alloy at a cost of nearly 350 million RMB (about US$ 52 million). Before the order to cover the statue was made, the central supervision and inspection team arrived at Luanchuan county under the jurisdiction of Luoyang city to carry out inspections. Officials pointed out that the Laozi statue at Laojun Mountain had not received approval from the administrative department for religious affairs of the State Council and constituted an “illegal construction.” Officials from the province’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) threatened the person in charge of the Laojun Mountain Tourism Scenic Area, saying, “If you don’t cover up the Laozi statue, the entire Laojun Mountain will be sealed off.” The Laozi statue on the Daoist cultural heritage land of Laojun Mountain has been designated as a state-level 5A tourist attraction, the highest ranking available. In February 2014, this bronze statue of Laozi was recognized by Guinness World Records as “the world’s tallest bronze statue of Laozi.”
Video: The statue of Laozi is covered from above by a yellow cloth raised by a hot air balloon at Laojun Mountain Laozi Culture Garden.
National 4A-level tourist attraction in Jiangxi: Lao-Tzu sculpture concealed for “violating religious policy”
On October 12, 2018, the local government ordered the demolition of the Lao-Tzu sculpture in the national 4A-level scenic area of Yangshimu in Anfu county, under the jurisdiction of Ji’an city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi. The government’s initial plan was to blow up the sculpture. But after the person in charge of the scenic area negotiated with the government, the sculpture was simply concealed in March. As a result, the park blocked off the sculpture with a sizeable plant-decorated barrier with Chinese characters for the name Anfu (安福) displayed on it.
According to one of the employees at the scenic area, the sculpture was carved in 2017 by Wang Ronghai, a well-known sculptor from Fujian Province. Sixteen meters in width and 23 meters in height, its cost was over four million RMB (around US$ 560,000). After its completion, the sculpture became the scenic area’s most iconic landmark, cherished by tourists.
Qibugou Scenic Area, popular tourist attraction in Wu’an city, Hebei: Arhat statues have been decorated with artificial flowers
In early November 2018, the local authorities demanded that all religious statues be dismantled in 502 administrative villages under Wu’an city’s jurisdiction in Hebei Province. Even popular Buddhist-themed tourist attractions were not spared. 500 statues of Arhats at Qibugou Scenic Area and the Giant Buddha at Jingniang Lake – two famous tourist attractions in Wu’an city – were designated as key targets for this demolition operation. To save the statues, local people decided to hide them: some have been wrapped in green cloth and decorated with artificial flowers; while others have been concealed behind advertising billboards.
Nanhai Guanyin Temple in Lintao county, Gansu: Open-air Guanyin statue secluded from the world
To protect the statue of Guanyin – Buddhist Goddess of Mercy – at Nanhai Guanyin Temple from being demolished, villagers from Lintao county, in north-central China’s Gansu Province, had no choice but to sheathe the entire Guanyin statue in a huge black sunshade mesh in October 2018. Since then, the Guanyin statue has been secluded from the world; from the outside, the entire appearance of the statue is indiscernible. It reportedly cost over 8 million RMB (over US$ 1,170,000) to build the Guanyin statue, while 1.2 million RMB (approximately US$ 175,600) was spent on the demolition.