Active for generations, places of worship for indigenous religions are being demolished throughout the country, authorities claiming that they are illegal.
by Ye Lan
The CCP is often citing “foreign religious infiltration” as the pretext of crackdowns against Christianity or Islam. However, China’s indigenous folk religions are too persecuted and suppressed.
Folk temples, scattered across the country, sometimes a few in a relatively small village, were regarded as part of the “Four Olds” – old customs, culture, habits, and ideas – during the Cultural Revolution and were shut down or destroyed. Under the rule of President Xi Jinping, the folk temples suffer calamity once again.
32 temples forcibly demolished within 20 days
Nainai Temple is located on Hou Mountain in Yi county, under the jurisdiction of Baoding city, in the northern province of Hebei, about 120 kilometers from Beijing. Because of the temple’s popularity and reputation, it had numerous believers and was known as the “First Taoist Ritual Area of North China.” According to Xu Teng, a Ph.D. student at Tsinghua University’s School of Architecture, Nainai Temple was once a very characteristic place for offering sacrifices.
Residents from the area reported that, toward the end of last year, the director of Baoding city’s United Front Work Department disguised himself as a pilgrim and visited Hou Mountain to conduct a secret inspection. Soon afterward, the county government issued an order to demolish all the temples in the surrounding area, as well as the nearby buildings that provided meals and accommodations for tourists. Only the main hall of Nainai Temple was spared.
Since then, the once famous temple has gradually become deserted. On March 1, the local government held a “mobilization meeting for comprehensive governance work” to deal with the other temples on Hou Mountain. In the short span of 20 days, 32 temples and at least 164 other faith-related buildings were demolished.
A villager told Bitter Winter that Baoding city’s United Front Work Department oversaw the temple demolition campaign. “The government doesn’t care whether your building has a permit or a business license. If they paint the character “拆” [chāi, meaning ‘to demolish’] on the wall, then it will be forcibly destroyed. There is nowhere for people to go to reason with the Communist Party,” the villager said angrily.
Some propaganda slogans have been hung along the path leading up to Hou Mountain. One of them reads: “Illegal buildings will be demolished.”
According to local villagers, the sacrificial and worship activities at Hou Mountain’s Nainai Temple have existed for many years and previously received strong support from the government. The pilgrims who came to burn incense and worship ranged from ordinary people to government officials. Forcibly demolishing these buildings under the pretense of “illegal structures” is just an excuse for the government to combat religious belief, the villagers believe.
5,911 Tudi temples demolished in one city
In March, in Gaoyou city in the eastern province of Jiangsu, Tudi temples – the type of temples dedicated to the local god of land – that embodied folk traditional beliefs and customs were also subjected to a severe crackdown on the grounds of “illegality.”
Within 26 days, 5,911 local Tudi temples were demolished, provoking strong resentment among the people, who referred to it as a sweeping, indiscriminate move.
Officials from the Gaoyou Department of Land and Resources stated that all Tudi temples were illegal buildings, occupying large areas of rural arable land and urban public facilities and places. To justify the demolitions, they claimed that some temples were set up spontaneously and have not gone through the relevant procedures in advance.
However, according to experts, worshipping at Tudi temples is a long-standing local custom, and has become an essential part of local’s daily lives. The most important element of folk religions is sincere faith; without faith, there would be no culture. If the tradition of worshipping the god of land is interrupted and altered, people will have nowhere to place their faith.
Folk temple demolition is expanding
In just ten days, from April 10 to 20, the government of Xianju county in the eastern province of Zhejiang forcibly demolished 21 temples within its jurisdiction. According to a Buddhist Association staff member who requested anonymity, this forced demolition campaign was a “rectification” task uniformly issued by the government.
Between May 12 and 14, the local government sealed off 18 temples in 14 villages under the jurisdiction of Guangwu town, in Xingyang county-level city, in the central province of Henan. The next step is likely to be demolition.