Portrayed as a model of “CCP support and patriotism” for paying respect to revolutionary heroes, the temple in Hebei succumbs to religious persecution nonetheless.
by Yang Xiangwen
Under the CCP’s crackdown on religions, even places of worship that capitulate to government demands to worship Party leaders – former and present – and allow in icons of revolutionary heroes to be adorned next to deities, are finding it hard to survive in today’s China. They, too, are persecuted and suppressed. Nama Temple (also called Huama Temple), located in Qianying town under the jurisdiction of Tangshan city in the northern province of Hebei, is one of them.
The temple was built in place of the original Nama Temple that prospered for over 1,000 years but was abandoned in the 1930s after falling into disrepair. According to historical records, the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Taizong (598-649), conferred the name “Nama Temple” upon the place of worship. In 2013, around 10,000 local villagers petitioned the government to rebuild the temple, and the construction started the same year with the approval from the local authorities.
In September 2014, the person in charge of the temple commissioned to build a monument to China’s revolutionary martyrs next to the temple with the funds that she had raised. Since then, the temple had held events to commemorate the martyrs and temple fairs every year, attracting numerous Buddhists and garnering widespread media attention – repeated news coverage in Tangshan Evening News, on Hebei TV, and other state media – in the past five years and was regarded as an exemplar of “supporting the Party and loving the country.”
Regardless of all these efforts, the temple was shut down in late January by local government officials because they claimed that it “illegally occupied arable land,” according to village residents. The plaque above the gate to the temple’s Tianwang Hall (“Hall of the Celestial Kings”) was dismantled; entrances to other halls were bricked up; statues of lions on either side of the main hall and an incense burner in front of it were removed; and even the Chinese characters for “Nama Temple” inscribed on the revolutionary martyrs’ monument was smeared over with black paint. In the face of these cruel acts, the person in charge of the temple begged local officials to allow believers continue practicing their faith (she even once kneeled in front of them, villagers claimed), but the officials mercilessly turned her down.
Shortly after 2 a.m. on May 18, officers from the local police station came to the temple and detained the person in charge. More than 50 police officers were then dispatched to finish sealing off the temple, and over 100 government-hired workers were ordered to dismantle Buddhist statues in the temple. In the end, part of the temple was demolished, and all of the dismantled Buddhist statues were hauled away.
According to village residents, after a 16-hour detention for no reason, the person in charge of the temple was brought back to the demolished temple by the police. Facing the horrific scene, the woman was heartbroken. To add insult to injury, a police officer pointed a video camera at her, asking, “We tore down the statues in your temple. What do you think of the government’s actions?”
Afraid that the person in charge would be arrested again, a family member who was with her at the temple, hurriedly exclaimed: “The Communist Party is good!” The officers continued to pressure the woman more, but she refused to say anything. Only after her relative intervened again, repeating praises to the CCP, the officers switched off the camera and left.
Infuriated by what the authorities had done, local Buddhists commented that the government acts despicably but still wants to keep a good reputation. One of them wondered why the government then allowed the construction of the temple in the first place if they now say that it is “illegal.” “The government deliberately changed the land’s classification just to justify their closure of the temple,” the Buddhist added.
Another believer thinks that the reason for closing the temple could have been its growing influence and popularity among Buddhists in the area, which is precisely what the government hates to see.
The person in charge of the temple planned to seek justice by petitioning higher authorities, but local government officials threatened her that “the future of her offspring would be affected.” One of them said that it was an order from the central government, and nobody dares to disobey it. He told her to remember the Tiananmen Square massacre when the authorities killed countless number of students.
“If you disobey, the government will crush you to death like an ant. The loss of lives of four or five hundred civilians is nothing,” the official added.