On central government orders, local authorities throughout China are cracking down on Buddhist places of worship. As a result, many are razed to the ground.
by Shen Xinran
In mid-July 2019, the government of Tangshan city in the northern province of Hebei convened a conference dedicated to the implementation of a secret decree by the national United Front Work Department (UFWD), ordering local authorities to demolish temples and religious statues throughout the country.
An inside source revealed to Bitter Winter that officials from all levels of government were threatened during the event to lose their jobs if they don’t comply with the orders to demolish every Buddhist and Taoist temple under their jurisdiction, regardless if they have permits or not. Officials were ordered to drive out all believers who reside in temples and arrest anyone who attempts to resist. The central government religious work inspection team, stationed in the province, was there to supervise and scrutinize their work.
Implementing central government orders, more than 20 officials from Tangshan’s Qianxi county government came to Longfu Temple in August to oversee its demolition. Five excavators razed to the ground numerous halls of the temple, the construction of which started in 2017, and over 40 million RMB (about $ 5.6 million) had been spent. Some buildings were still not finished.
“The government simply demolished a great temple; we’ve built it in vain,” a local Buddhist said.
An informed source from the area told Bitter Winter that the temple manager had approached the Tangshan city Party secretary and showed him the government-issued construction permit, pleading to preserve the temple, but to no avail. He also confirmed that government officials on all levels throughout the province are forced to pledge to demolish temples under their jurisdiction within a limited timeframe, threatened to lose their jobs otherwise. He added that in cases they fail to do so, the provincial government dispatches convicted felons to destroy temples and religious statues, reducing their sentences in exchange.
Pressured by the higher-ups, officials in localities have no choice but to obey. “If we demolish temples, we are offending deities. But we’ll be punished if we disobey the order,” a UFWD officer in the county told Bitter Winter.
The Buddhist Qiyuan Temple, covering an area of 1,000 square meters in Langqi town under the jurisdiction of Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province in China’s southeast, was built at the cost of over 3 million RMB (about $ 420,000), mostly donated by believers. Designated an “illegal construction” by the local government, it was razed to the ground overnight.
At 5 a.m. on November 8, over 300 riot police officers, wearing helmets and black masks, gathered outside the temple, blocking its two main entrances. Soon after, four excavators arrived to demolish the temple.
Video: Believers are mourning the demolition of the Qiyuan Temple.
“At that moment, we all felt paralyzed, unable even to speak,” a believer from the temple remembered the night of the demolition. “Some people even fainted from grief. The government is worse than thugs who defy all laws. Before the temple was built, the mountain on which it stands was covered with large rocks. Villagers smashed them into pieces themselves for the construction of the temple.”
Video: Riot police officers are blocking one of the entrances to the Qiyuan Temple, preventing anyone from entering.
A local Buddhist, filled with emotion, said that the government can designate any temple as an “illegal construction” and demolish it as they please. “You can apply for a permit for your temple, but they won’t handle it. They are demolishing our temple as an example to others so that nobody else would dare to build temples in the future. They are actually suppressing the development of religion,” the Buddhist added.
On the same day, some villagers tried to release videos with recordings of the demolition on TikTok, a video-sharing social networking site, but the authorities soon blocked them.