Numerous Buddhist and Taoist temples throughout China have been sealed off or demolished, leaving the elderly monks and believers who lived there with nowhere to go.
A less well-known story, however, is what happens to the monks and nuns who lived at the temples that have been closed or demolished. These devout believers, often elderly, find their lives suddenly uprooted, with no companionship and no security for their survival.
The suffering these religious people endure is heartbreaking. For example, a Buddhist temple in Xinzheng city, Henan Province in central China (we are withholding the name of the temple to protect those involved), was sealed off in September. Authorities claimed that it did not have a permit to operate. All residents were prohibited from living at the temple, and the water and electricity supply were cut off. As a result, more than a dozen monks and nuns have been forced to leave the temple.
With nowhere to go, one Buddhist nun in her seventies had no choice but to live alone at the temple in secret. Since there is no water supply, she must walk two to three li (about 1 to 1.5 kilometers) every day to fetch water, and must burn firewood to cook meals. Government personnel come to the temple at unscheduled times for inspections. To avoid detection, she is afraid to go even to the courtyard of the temple. At night, only when necessary, she carefully lights a candle to provide illumination.
This nun said that she has lived at the temple for over 20 years. She was devastated by the sight of the government destroying the temple’s plaque, incense burners, stone monuments, and other facilities. All she could do was hide in the vegetable field and cry.
Another elderly woman shares a similar tragic story. Zhang Cuihua (a pseudonym), a Buddhist believer, in her seventies, is blind. She is not a nun, but has lived in Yangxin county’s Taiwang Temple in Hubei, Henan’s neighboring province, for eight years because she has no one to take care of her. In mid-October this year, local government personnel sealed the temple and ordered her to move out. With nowhere to go, Zhang Cuihua was unwilling to move. Government officials threatened her, saying: “If you don’t move out, we will use an excavator to raze the temple to the ground.” Helplessly, she had no choice but to move into the kitchen adjacent to the temple.
Ever since Taiwang Temple was sealed off, no one has come to the temple to burn incense and worship, nor have any worshippers come to give alms. Alone and impoverished, Zhang Cuihua does not even have food to eat. If it were not for the charity of villagers, she would go hungry.
Zhang Cuihua said tearfully: “As a blind person, it wasn’t easy for me to live at the temple. Now, the temple has been sealed off by the government. There often is no food for me to eat. I expect I will starve to death eventually!”
Taoist believers are being hit hard by temple closures as well. Bamboo Forest Temple is an ancient Taoist temple in Huayin city of the northwestern province of Shaanxi. On August 14, it was demolished by the authorities on the grounds that it was in violation of building codes.
The person who was in charge of the temple’s renovation watched as the ancient building was dismantled until it was bare, and said indignantly: “The painstaking efforts of so many people have gone to waste! This demolition has caused losses of 1.6 million RMB [about 232,500 USD].”
According to eyewitnesses, all the food and household goods belonging to the temple’s abbot were buried in the rubble during demolition. When the abbot returned, he dug out his resident ID card, household registration booklet, land permit, and other items from the rubble.
Now, this octogenarian abbot has nowhere to live and no source of livelihood. He has no choice but to drift around from place to place.
The closing and demolishing of temples and churches are often the most visible scars of the CCP’s crackdown on religion. We must not forget that there are many more victims of this persecution, like the monks, nuns, and the elderly that live in temples because they have no families to take care of them or homes to live in: harder to see but suffering silently at the hands of the CCP.
Reported by Jiang Tao