China’s latest round of crackdown against Buddhist venues continues to intensify. Even shop signboards containing the Chinese character Fó (佛meaning “Buddha” or “Buddhism”) have been forcibly removed or painted over.
According to a Buddhist from Harbin city in China’s northernmost province of Heilongjiang, between November 1 and 2, the Administration Bureau of Industry and Commerce, the Bureau of Religious Affairs and some other departments in a district of Harbin city launched a joint operation, targeting several Buddhist supplies shops in the district: The store signboards containing faith-related wording were dismantled or painted over — some Buddhist supplies shops were renamed as “arts and crafts stores.”
On November 9, personnel from the Administration Bureau for Industry and Commerce ordered the owner of one Buddhist supplies store in the district to remove all Buddhist books from the store’s shelves.
According to local residents, Buddhist supplies stores, both large and small, in the district are now practically deserted. In the past, incense smoke would billow from the altars in front of the stores, but now, the altars have long been put away, and some of these stores have closed down. The district’s Guanyin Temple has also been prohibited from burning incense.
Cases of Buddhist signboards being forcibly removed have also occurred in other provinces throughout the country.
On November 2, a Bitter Winter reporter passing through a market in Hebei Province’s Tangshan city saw the owners of several Buddhist supplies stores removing the character Fó (佛) from the wall or signboards.
One shop owner told the reporter: “The central government issued a document prohibiting the exterior decorations of shops from containing Chinese characters or signboards with religious connotations. Now, we have to change the wording to say ‘handcrafted gifts’ … Now, burning incense, offering lights, and making offerings to Buddha statues have all been banned. We’re even not allowed to sell Buddhist chanting machines.”
When the shop owner was asked whether this move by the government will cause the store to incur losses, the shop owner said: “This is the national policy. The arm is no match for the thigh*. If there are losses, we have to bear them ourselves. If we don’t remove it ourselves, the government will come to remove it, and once they come, our losses could be even greater.”
It is understood that the Wanfo Pagoda near this market is the largest-scale Buddhist venue for offering incense in Tangshan’s Kaiping district. In August, the local Buddhist Association canceled the semiweekly Buddhist devotional practice of prayer for blessings under the guise of “preventing believers from making trouble.” The authorities also used items painted with the heads of dragons to cover the four Buddha statues at the top of the pagoda.
One Buddhist source said that since last year, the authorities have been dismantling and painting over many shop signboards bearing halal patterns or text under the pretense of waging an “assault on the generalization of halal.” The term “generalization of halal” is a loosely translated Chinese term “qingzhen fanhua” that refers to the usage of the concept of halal (permissible or traditional as per Islamic laws) in non-food categories.
If the purported reason for removing halal markings is to stop terrorists, then what is the purpose of removing the Chinese character meaning “Buddha” or “Buddhism”? Answer: There is no purpose other than to try to rid the country of any religion at all.
Reported by Piao Junying