As a result of crackdowns launched in April in the provinces of Zhejiang, Henan, and Hebei, some temples were demolished while others repurposed for government use.
by Yang Xiangwen
The coronavirus outbreak did not halt repressions against people of faith and places of worship in China that targeted Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and other believers. According to the recently received information, even indigenous folk religions, which are deeply rooted in China’s rural communities and have thrived for generations, were not spared.
From April 14 to 19, officials from the government of Wenling, a county-level city administered by Taizhou city in the eastern province of Zhejiang, demolished three buildings in the Yangfu Temple, a folk religion venue with a history of over 100 years. The temple’s main hall was spared, but believers worry that it may soon be destroyed as well.
A local believer told Bitter Winter that the temple was built with the money raised by residents, without any contribution from the government.
According to a Taizhou city government employee, officials from villages administered by the city were summoned by higher authorities to a meeting last December. They were demanded to intensify crackdowns on folk religious venues as “illegal structures,” just like during the infamous “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign. Launched throughout Zhejiang Province in 2013 and presented as a move to rectify and demolish old buildings and residential areas, the drive resulted in the destruction of over 1,000 churches and crosses.
After the meeting, a folk religion temple in Luoyu village, built at the cost of 1.1 million RMB (about $ 160,000) raised by its residents, was demolished. Officials claimed that “it occupied basic farmland protection area and was an illegal construction.”
“This plot of land is hilly, it’s not protected farmland,” a local believer told Bitter Winter. “The officials were determined to demolish the temple to keep their posts; they are unreasonable.”
Another folk temple in Taizhou was rectified, and the construction of a new one was halted.
On the night of April 22, over 20 government personnel and police officers from Heshun town in Linzhou, a county-level city in the central province of Henan, demolished 18 statues in two folk religion temples: the Dragon King Hall and Nainai Temple. The officials said that “the statues must be demolished ahead of a provincial inspection on April 25.”
The owner of the Dragon King Hall begged the officials to stop, even falling to the ground in front of them, but they ignored her. Three days later, right before the provincial inspection, the Dragon King Hall was turned into a cultural activity center. The Nainai Temple has become the Moxiang Book Studio—an entertainment center to play Chinese chess and other games or read books.
A Linzhou city government employee told Bitter Winter that 12 temples had been demolished in Heshun town. “The higher-level government ordered to demolish all temples that occupy less than 15 square meters, while larger ones should be turned into reading halls or other entertainment venues,” the official explained. “This is a national policy, passed down from one government level to another. No one dares to oppose.”
He also revealed that the local government was unyielding in carrying out the orders to rectify temples, demanding subordinates to “launch resolute attacks and take strong measures against people who try to block the rectification.”
“All local people came to burn incense and kowtow to pray for peace during festivals and holidays,” a local villager said. “Why does the government interfere with this?”
From mid-April to early June, 85 small folk temples were demolished in Handan, a prefecture-level city in the northern province of Hebei. Officials used various pretexts to eliminate the places of worship and destroy religious statues, in the likes of “unapproved private constructions,” “disorderly buildings” that “affect the city’s image.”
On April 15, over 30 officials from Handan’s Cizhou town forcibly demolished two folk religion temples in the Baizhuang village. “This campaign manifests that Xi Jinping follows the path of Mao Zedong,” a believer said in anger. “The government bans our belief and forces us to follow the Party in everything. They are evil!”
Video: Statues are being destroyed in two folk religion venues in Handan.