In May, the CCP launched another large-scale drive against Buddhist and Taoist venues in central China’s province where the coronavirus originated.
by Li Wensheng
Many had hoped that the coronavirus outbreak would slow down crackdowns on religion in China, but this was not the case. For the CCP, clamping down on people of faith has been more important that solving social issues associated with the pandemic.
As the coronavirus restrictions were eased in May, the government of Jianli county in Hubei’s prefecture-level city of Jingzhou, ordered to rectify Buddhist and other religious venues before the end of June.
“This round of rectification is more rigorous than ever,” a local government employee told Bitter Winter. “All unregistered temples must be emptied and shut down, and those that refuse to be rectified as per orders will be demolished. Officials are removing their children’s names engraved on donor recognition plaques in temples because they are afraid that their careers may be affected, and families implicated.”
In the following one and a half months, Taoist Dimu Temple, Nanqin Temple, and Dawang Temple, as well as the Buddhist Wenxin Temple, all spanning the history of over 100 years, were converted into activity centers for the elderly. The Yuling Palace Temple has been turned into a library.
Daxian Temple, Baiyi Temple, Hewang Temple, and Tianshou Temple (all Taoist venues), two Buddhist temples—Chongying Temple and Yuandi Temple—and two folk religion temples—Guandi Temple and Xianggong Temple—were shut down. To prevent them from resuming activities, officials destroyed all religious statues and incense burners, blocked entrances to the venues.
“Provincial, municipal, and county leaders call us every day, demanding to shut down temples and arrest anyone who tries to protest,” a village Party secretary explained. “The policy is so rigorous because there are too many people of faith in China, many times more than Communist Party members.”
In June, Ezhou and Huangshi cities’ governments convened meetings to discuss the rectification of Buddhist and Taoist venues. According to preliminary data, 97 temples were shut down or repurposed in Huangshi in June, and their statues were removed. Numerous Buddhist statues were demolished in Ezhou within a week after the meeting, and temples were repurposed for other use. Some have been turned into residential buildings.
The Songlin Temple in Ezhou was converted into an agro-tourism site after all its Buddhist statues had been smashed. The ancient Futian Temple was forced to remove its Buddhist statues before it was converted into an elderly activity center. Coerced and threatened by the government, several temples, including Puguang Temple, Wusi Temple, and Songhuang Temple, had to remove Buddhist statues themselves.
“Such policies are the same as during the Cultural Revolution when worshipping Buddha was banned,” the director of one of the temples, in her 80s, commented. “They removed the Bodhisattva statue I had worshipped for decades.”
Jianli county government has repeatedly tried to take over and demolish the local Taishan Temple. After many attempts to make the Buddhist venue’s director move out, officials threatened to fire her children from their jobs. Only then did the director succumb to the pressure, and the temple was demolished the same day.
A Buddhist temple by the same name was demolished on May 15 in Shiyan city. This Taishan Temple was built a year ago, and its Hall of Great Strength alone cost at least four million RMB (about $ 590,000). The local government urged its director’s three children, who work in state institutions, to persuade their father to go along with the demolition. Fearing that the children would lose their jobs, the director agreed. On the same day, more than 200 government personnel were dispatched to destroy the temple.
“Officials blocked all the roads, preventing people from approaching, and confiscated their phones,” an eyewitness remembered. “Over a dozen excavators demolished the temple overnight.”
“We must implement this policy,” a local government employee said. “If the Communist Party says you broke the law, this meant that you did.”
On May 9, Taizi town officials in Huangshi city, accompanied by over ten urban management officers, came to the Buddhist Xiabao Temple to demolish it. Disregarding its director’s pleas, they made a big hole in the temple’s back wall. The director agreed to finish destroying the temple, hoping to preserve at least some of the building materials.
The director of a state-registered Taoist temple in Huangshi told Bitter Winter that the community secretary ordered removing all religious statues from places of worship, regardless of whether they have a government-issued certificate or not. “Our temple would be demolished if we had not removed the statues,” the director explained, adding that local officials came to the temple and smashed some of the statues themselves.
“Officials told us that all temples should be repurposed for other purposes by the end of June,” another temple director from Huangshi said. “Drones will be employed to check if temples have been rectified.”
During an inspection at the Buddhist Dongyue Temple in Wangchang, a village under the jurisdiction of the town by the same name in the county-level city of Qianjiang, officials found scripture books and ordered to burn them. The venue’s director was told to film the burning and send the footage to them.
In the second half of last year, numerous Buddhist statues in Hubei were hidden from people’s eyes. Among them was a thousand-hand Guanyin statue in the Guanyin Temple in Xianning city’s Guihua town and an 8-meter-tall Guanyin statue in the city’s Guanyin Pavilion, both concealed in November, and a 21.8-meter-tall two-faced Guanyin statue in the famous Guiyuan Temple in the provincial capital Wuhan, disguised on September 30.
“Bodhisattva will never see the light of day until Xi Jinping is out of office,” a Buddhist believer from Xianning commented.