A pandemic did not stop the Chinese government from dismantling, destroying and modifying visible signs of religious display during the Covid-19 crisis and its efforts have ramped up in its wake.
“As the deadly virus was spreading through China, the government continued cracking down on temples and churches, destroying buildings and harassing believers.”
Even Buddhism – a religion with deep roots in China and a faith typically afforded more leniency than Islam and Christianity – is under pressure to toe the Party line as the CCP ramps up its agenda to “sinicize” religious ideology – a strategy launched in 2015 to secure Party control and curb outside influence in China, with the goal of eliminating competition for the minds and spirits of Chinese citizens. Religion poses the double threat of external belief systems and the risk of grassroots organizing – both a potential menace to the CCP’s command of the nation and internal stability.
What was once tolerated 20 years ago is now not the case as the CCP enlists local authorities in its campaign to communize religion, including the destruction of religious texts, changing texts to reflect the Party viewpoint, cancelling religious events and removing visible signs of religion.
The photographs below, taken earlier this month, show the dismantling of Guanyin, the three-faced goddess of mercy in Chinese Buddhism. The bodhisattva, made of white jade, keeps watch over the Zhongnan Mountains (a branch of the Qin Mountains) located in Shaanxi Province, south of Xi’an (the ancient capital of Shaanxi) in northwestern China.
What does the Chinese government hope to gain from the erasure and reconfiguring of religious symbolism?
According to journalist Matthias Bollinger, a correspondent for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, with a seasoned eye on the situation in China, the goal is power.
“Power over discourse in the community, power over what people think,” or “at least” what they “are allowed to publicly think.”
For more on this, see Bollinger’s reports for Deutsche Welle: