To save Buddhist and Taoist temples from demolition, believers hide or remove religious statues, replace them with images of China’s past and current leaders.
by Cai Congxin
While believers painstakingly attempt to prevent outdoor religious statues from being destroyed, owners and managers of Buddhist and Taoist temples are forced to “rectify” their places of worship to meet the regime’s demands, hoping to evade the aggressive demolition storm sweeping across China.
In mid-April, Taoist Sanguan Temple, built at the cost of nine million RMB (about $ 1.3 million), in Chahe town under the jurisdiction of Honghu city in the central province of Hubei, was sealed off for demolition. Government officials told the person-in-charge that it’s a national policy to demolish temples, and threatened to use force if he refused to comply.
The following month, the temple manager hired construction workers to make changes to the temple in an attempt to save it. The process lasted more than two months, and the temple now looks more like a Party propaganda agency, both inside and outside.
The signboard with the temple name has been replaced with the “History Museum of Yongxing Village.”
Three Bodhisattva statues in the temple’s main Mahavira Hall were concealed with planks, and a portrait of Mao Zedong was posted on them. Posters with traditional Chinese poems, including one by Mao himself, were placed on walls. Books on Chinese culture were also displayed in the hall. The signboard of “Mahavira Hall” was replaced with “Culture Activity Center.” The incense burner in front of the hall was also hidden behind boards, now covered with propaganda slogans.
The name of the “Chanting Hall” has been changed to “Elderly Entertainment Room,” and a banner with the portrait of Xi Jinping was put up on the wall facing two mahjong tables. Slogans praising the CCP, such as “the Party is in my heart,” and portraits of Xi Jinping were posted on the walls of the temple.
“We can do nothing about it. This is one of Xi Jinping’s policies. Who dares to disobey him?” a local believer said helplessly. “Any resistance will destroy the temple. For now, this temple is allowed to be rectified, but I am not sure it will survive.”
In March, a small temple in Anliang town in Jia county, administered by Pingdingshan city in the central province of Henan, was changed beyond recognition. As a local believer told Bitter Winter, the government ordered to remove the statues of deities from the temple and post a portrait of Mao Zedong on the focal wall, or the temple would be demolished.
The statues have been removed, and portraits of Mao Zedong, marshals of China’s Communist revolution, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, and other communist leaders were posted on walls instead, making the temple look like a propaganda base.
A Buddhist Guanyin Temple in the Qingyuan district of Baoding city in the northern province of Hebei was also ordered to undergo changes in spring this year or face demolition. The person in charge replaced the Chinese characters for “Guanyin Temple” on the temple signboard with “Commemorating Mao Zedong.” White porcelain statues of Mao were placed alongside Buddhist deities in the temple for the believers to worship.
“Under Mao Zedong’s rule, all deities had to be swept away, and all people were told to love the Party. All temples without portraits of Mao were doomed to be demolished. We are now regressing to the times of the Cultural Revolution,” a believer commented on the current situation of temples in China.