Large outdoor statues continue to be targeted for destruction as part of the CCP’s nationwide campaign to eliminate all open-air religious symbols.
by Yao Zhangjin
Since the start of the CCP’s nationwide campaign to eliminate large outdoor religious statues last year, the southwestern province of Sichuan has been severely targeted because of its Buddhist and Taoist heritage. Even symbols of faith with high artistic value have not been spared.
Scenic area loses two iconic statues
The statues of the Medicine Buddha and Nanhai Guanyin (or Guanyin of the Southern Seas), the Goddess of Mercy in Chinese Buddhism, have been iconic symbols for years in the famous Yaowang Valley Scenic Spot in Beichuan county under the jurisdiction of Sichuan’s Mianyang city.
The 27-meter-tall Medicine Buddha used to stand atop a mountain in Yaowang Valley and could be seen from several kilometers away. Buddhists and tourists reached it by climbing 357 steps to pray for blessings. The Nanhai Guanyin, 21 meters in height, was one of the primary attractions in the scenic spot, worshipers coming from all over the world.
But not anymore. Both statues were demolished in late March on orders from the county government, which proclaimed that “the Buddhist statues were too tall and would affect the aerial photography.”
“If the statues were not removed, all Beichuan county government officials would have lost their jobs,” a local source told Bitter Winter. He said that orders to demolish the statues came directly from the Sichuan provincial government. He added that since the second half of last year, officials from Beichuan county’s Bureau of Forest Development, Public Security Bureau, and Religious Affairs Bureau started pressuring the scenic area’s administration to demolish the statues.
Last year, the central government issued orders to crack down on outdoor religious symbols across the country and dispatched inspection teams to supervise their implementation. For local government officials, this has become an important political task, and any failure to enforce it may result in punishment and even loss of a job.
The four-faced Guanyin statue, located outside the Eastern Buddhist Temple (東佛寺) in the village of Xinyi in Shibantan, a town administered by Chengdu city’s Xindu district, was demolished on November 9, 2018.
An eyewitness recounted to Bitter Winter that at 4 a.m. that day, about 300 officials from the Public Security Bureau, Urban Management Bureau, and Fire Prevention Bureau stormed into the temple. They sealed five entrances to the temple with barricade tape and used their cars to block all the roads leading to it. The police stopped residents passing by the temple on their way to work and ordered to go back home. At about 5 p. m., the more than ten-meter-high four-faced Guanyin statue was torn down and turned into a pile of rubble.
500 Buddhist statues destroyed, more than 1,000 concealed
Hiding religious sculptures from the outside world is another means by which the CCP eliminates symbols of faith across China.
A famous reclining Buddha sculpture, white in color and large in size, outside the Arhat Temple in Sichuan’s Mianyang city is 46 meters long, nearly six meters wide, and nine meters high. Five hundred Arhat statues of varying heights surround the Buddha.
In May, the local Religious Affairs Bureau ordered the temple to remove the 500 Arhat statues at the temple’s expense and build a cover to conceal the reclining Buddha.
According to sources, the authorities threatened to blow the sculpture into pieces had the order to cover it up been ignored. The 98-year-old abbot of the temple had no choice but to agree with the demands. Reportedly, the amount of money spent to hide the reclining Buddha was higher than the sculpture itself – 5 million RMB (about $ 700,000).
On top of that, 330 1,8-meter-tall statues of Shakyamuni Buddha and 88 additional religious figures outside the Arhat Temple have been covered with a specially-built glass structure. Also, over 1,200 other outdoor religious symbols were concealed.