In the most severe crackdown on Buddhism and Taoism since the Cultural Revolution, ancient temples and statues are being demolished across the country.
On July 15, the Buddhist Fangshan Temple, located in Weinan city, in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, received the dreaded government notice saying that the temple was an illegal building and, therefore, must be demolished. And, if the order to destroy it weren’t followed through, those in charge of the temple would be imprisoned. But how does the government get any right to say that a temple preceding the current government – it was first built during the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) – is illegal?
Fangshan Temple, which is located in the Qinling mountain range, has a long history. First built under the Han dynasty, then called the Maling Temple, it flourished under the Tang dynasty (618-907) and, after being burned down during the Song dynasty (960-1297), was repaired and reconstructed in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). As the legend has it, the famous Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang (602 – 664), scholar, traveler, and translator who travelled to India to compare Indian and Chinese Buddhism, once lived at the temple. The temple has served as a hub for local Buddhists.
Bitter Winter reporters managed to visit Fangshan Temple before it was demolished and thus are able to describe the architecture of the temple, which harkened back to the Tang-period, with the temple being divided into three parts, two tower-like buildings on the east and west ends and a small building in between. The two tower-like structures were v-shaped tiled rooms, while the middle level had highly exquisite overhanging on the four-upturned corners. But now these beautiful temples are a pile of ruins.
According to insiders, the government was afraid of attracting attention and arousing public resistance, so they gradually demolished the temple over the course of three or four sessions. On October 15, government personnel came for the second time to continue what they’d started. When reporters arrived at the scene, the west side portion of the temple had already been demolished, with bricks and tiles being all that remained. A two-meter-tall Buddha statue from inside this portion was also placed on the ground. The tower on the east side, meanwhile, was being demolished, leaving the large bell from inside placed on the yard in front of the nave.
“This ancient temple has a more than 2,000-year history,” one lay Buddhist told our reporters. “There was once an eminent monk who spent 15 years traveling around the country to collect alms [the practice of Buddhist monks to collect food] and only then did he build the temple. It was very large in scale and used to be the most famous temple in the area of several hundred li [which translates to roughly 0.5 kilometers]. Unfortunately, since it was built in the Han dynasty, it had experienced several twists and turns. Now the CCP issued one command and, in a span of about 20 days, the first half of Fangshan Temple has been destroyed beyond recognition.”
Local residents were also very sad about the temple’s demolition. They told reporters that Fangshan Temple was not only a place of worship for nearby residents, but also a historical relic and part of their cultural heritage. “The government didn’t merely demolish the temple,” one said. “These parts of our cultural heritage are priceless, but it has been ruined by the government. It is truly a pity. This is a great misfortune for China.”
Some ancient Buddhist and Taoist temples were severely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, causing huge losses that are still difficult to make up for. After the Cultural Revolution, some ordinary citizens proactively reconstructed or repaired these historic sites. But this time, the CCP is launching such a large-scale attack against these historical artifacts they’ve become endangered once again.
On September 30, in Tangshan city of the northern province of Hebei, an 800-year-old ancient temple called Jinchan Temple was sealed off. The temple had previously been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but in recent years, the locals raised more than 100 million RMB (about $14,520,000) to renovate it. Between August and September, personnel from the municipal government and the municipal China Buddhist Association made four successive visits to the temple, expressly prohibiting the burning of incense and worshipping. The officials demanded that worshippers seal the incense burners with cement, remove the plaque on the main hall and also remove the statues of Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy) and Ji Gong (a Buddhist monk who possessed supernatural powers and used them to help the poor) from the courtyard. In order to protect the main hall from being demolished, the believers had no choice but to follow these orders.
But there’s more: Again, in September, a Taoist temple – named Longmuyuan, literally meaning “Dragon Mother Garden” – in Liaoning Province’s Donggang city in northeastern China, was sealed off. Four Taoist priests were forced to leave. This Taoist temple was built in the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). During the Cultural Revolution, it was smashed and destroyed by the Red Guards. In 2010, one local businessperson provided funding and, after discussions with cultural scholars and experts, Longmuyuan was rebuilt. This Taoist temple was hailed as “The Number One Temple of Northern Chinese Longmu Culture.” (In Chinese mythology, Longmu was a woman, worshiped as a goddess after raising five infant dragons).
Some people have commented that this round of religious persecution by the CCP authorities is the most severe since the Cultural Revolution. And, arguably, the people aren’t wrong: Temples are being shut down, Buddha statues are being toppled, monks are being expelled, and cultural relics are being destroyed. It’s the 2018 edition of the Cultural Revolution.
Reported by Yao Zhangjin