As the crackdown on Buddhist and Taoist venues sweeps across the province, believers are left with no place to worship, and monks forced to return to secular life.
by Cai Congxin
In 2019, awaiting central government’s return inspections, the Hubei authorities ramped up their efforts to crack down on religious activity venues across the province, especially those that managed to evade previous investigations. As Bitter Winter reported, in Liuhe, a town in Qichun county of the prefecture-level city of Huanggang, 40 of its 79 temples were sealed off in a few days in August, with people guarding them evicted.
Repurposed, closed, or destroyed
The government of Chuangwang, a town administered by Tongshan county in the prefecture-level city of Xianning, ordered the Buddhist Wanfo Temple to hand over its permits to be renewed but closed it down instead in September last year.
In October, a banner reading “Clean up gang crime and eliminate evil” was displayed above the entrance to the Taoist Xiaoti Temple in Jingzhou city’s Jianli county, which was sealed off the previous month.
According to a local elderly believer, the temple was demolished in 2018. The person in charge of it, together with two octogenarian Taoists, rebuilt the temple at the cost of over 30,000 RMB (about $ 4,300), never expecting to lose it again. The constant stress has had a toll on the in-charge’s health, who passed away in late December last year.
“We just worship Bodhisattva and burn incense. But officials attacked our temple like a gang of bandits,” the elderly believer complained. “They are inhuman. What can people like us do about it? We can’t stop them.”
At the end of last year, a hall under construction in the Buddhist Lingjiu Temple in the prefecture-level city of Ezhou was demolished after the local government deemed it an “illegal building,” despite attempts by the temple’s in-charge to stop the process. He was taken away for obstructing authorities.
The Buddhist Wangfolou Temple in Dawu county in the prefecture-level city of Xiaogan was razed to the ground by the local Religious Affairs Bureau on September 26. More than a hundred religious statues were buried in the ruins. The ancient temple was damaged during the Cultural Revolution but was later rebuilt at the cost of nearly 4 million RMB (about $ 582,900) funded by local Buddhists.
Another Buddhist temple in the county was sealed off on August 1, and the woman who had lived in the temple taking care of it for 27 years, now in her 80s, was driven out. She was hospitalized because of a heart attack caused by the stress of losing her home.
In September 2019, at least 13 temples were shut down in the county-level city of Chibi. Among them – the Taoist Wanshou Palace, as well as Buddhist Fozu, Wuxian, and Xin’an temples.
Local officials threatened the person in charge of the Fozu Temple to destroy it if he didn’t agree to seal it off. He kept protesting until his social benefits were suspended. An elderly Buddhist who used to live in the temple all year round was forced to move to a firewood shed. Government personnel then bricked up the front door of the temple and threatened to arrest anyone who disobeys the government’s policies.
Evicted monks have nowhere to go
“I had to move four times from temple to temple, as they were all sealed off,” said the person in charge of the Buddhist Fanye Temple in Huangshi city’s Yangxin county. “I spent every cent donated for my service on items in the temples. Every time I was driven out, I was penniless again.” After the last temple he stayed at was sealed off on November 21, the Buddhist felt sad and helpless. He had to leave again, afraid that officials would demolish the temple if he stayed. He told Bitter Winter that many monks and nuns have nowhere to stay after their temples are sealed off. Eventually, they have no choice but to return to secular life.
The Buddhist Yanshou Temple in Jingzhou-administered Shishou city was shut down in late October. Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau officials repeatedly urged the monk who lived there to leave. “I just want to live a peaceful life, be a good person and do good deeds,” the monk told Bitter Winter, choking with emotion. “But government officials keep forcing me to leave. Where is my next destination? China is vast, yet there is no place for me to stay.”
“Buddhists are being persecuted at the hands of Xi Jinping – he is the one who drives us to the edge, basically, taking our lives,” said a Buddhist from Huangshi’s county-level city of Daye, who has been a monk for more than two decades but now is expelled from his temple. “The more Xi Jinping persecutes people of faith, the greater disasters he will bring to China.”