Uproar Over Xi’an Temple Demolition Order

China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs has ordered an investigation of instructions to tear down buildings at a Buddhist temple complex in Xi’an. The controversial demolitions were ordered in preparation for a bid for World Heritage status. From AFP:

The Xingjiao holds relics of Xuan Zang, a Chinese monk who travelled to India to retrieve Buddhist scriptures in the 7th century.

His trip was the basis of a popular 1988 Chinese television drama Journey to the West — and also inspired an earlier Japanese show, Monkey, which became cult viewing in Britain and Australia.

The temple has been asked to remove two-thirds of its buildings by the end of May, a staff member told AFP on Thursday, including the monks’ dormitory, canteen and some “rooms to hold Buddhist services”.

[…] Some of the structures to go were recent, he said, but added: “The place will be almost flattened if all those are pulled down… How can we present the history of the temple then? (Those left) would look very isolated.”

A local heritage official insisted, however, that the goal is actually to bring the site closer to its historical state by removing incongruous modern buildings, some of which were reportedly built without approval in the first place. From Xinhua:

[…] Zhao Xiaoning, an official from the Chang’an District cultural heritage administration, said he was saddened by reports criticizing the government over its handling of the UNESCO application.

“Our application is to better protect the ancient pagodas from which the temple gets its fame,” Zhao said.

The government will only demolish buildings that affect the overall style of the temple, he added.

Most of the newly built buildings were constructed after the 1990s in a style that places them at odds with their surroundings, he said.

Global Voices Online has translated some messages of protest from Sina Weibo. One by Zhang Jinlai, star of the 1988 TV show, had been reposted more than 180,000 times by Friday evening. Many weibo users voiced suspicion that the real goal is to promote property development, but some seemed either unaware of or unconvinced by assurances that the ancient temple buildings themselves were not in danger.

Investor and online personality “Xue manzi” [zh] criticized:

These ancient temples have survived for a thousand years. For the sake of some stinking money, you dare to do this? Even Genghis Khan didn’t think of this when he conquered China. Mao Zedong’s unprecedented Cultural Revolution destroyed many Confucian tombs but left Xuan Zang alone! I am firmly opposed to the ! If you support me, please forward my post! Let microblogging public opinion prevail.

[…] Strategic investment experts Yue Chuanbo analyzed the deeper problems that have caused the temple demolition:

This is a manifestation of uncontrolled power and capitalization in China. When morality is lost and power is uncontrolled, power and capital will go unbridled for the purpose of its own benefit. They do not care about the destruction of anything, including people’s material homes and spiritual homes. Netizens need to rise up with a wide range of voices calling for justice; executives need a moral awakening.

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