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China Puts Ancient Buddhist Temple on Chopping Block

Local Chinese authorities, in a bid to preserve parts of the historic Silk Road trade route, have ordered the destruction of another historic site standing in the way.

Xingjiao Temple in Xi'an, which holds the remains of 7th-century Buddhist monk Xuan Zang, will be partially demolished to make room for greenery as part of the local government's plan to apply for UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site title for portions of the Silk Road in Shaanxi province. About two-thirds of the temple buildings are set to be razed by the end of May 2013.

Some historical relics, including Xuan Zang's portraits, are to be removed. Local authorities rejected an appeal from the monks to keep the temple.

China's state religious affairs bureau has called for an investigation of the planned demolition.

The news triggered [zh] outrage on China's most popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, with users criticizing authorities for neglecting the historic value of the temple. Writers, celebrities and online personalities joined the online protest, calling for a stop to the demolition.

Wang Yunxia, the director of the Institute of Cultural Heritage Law from People's University, speculated [zh] that history and culture were being used by the local government as a tool to make money:

Main gate of Xing Jiao temple in Xi'an(photo by blogger Guozi)

Main gate of Xingjiao Temple in Xian. Photo by blogger Guozi.


Behind the vigorous demolition in the name of applying for the title of World Cultural Heritage Site, perhaps the true intention of the local government is to promote real estate development.

“Liuxiao Lintong”, an actor known for his role as the Monkey King in the 1988 TV series “Journey to the West”, which was inspired by the monk Xuan Jang's journey to India, called for [zh] more support from higher authorities:

埋有玄奘大师灵骨的西安兴教寺正面临大规模拆迁,当地政府给出的拆迁原因是丝绸之路联合申遗的需要,据说是投 资建设“兴教寺佛教文化旅游景区建设项目”,我的佛友宽池法师作为寺院住持阻止无效,网民们都在呼吁我给予关注,事关重大,我作为一个演员真诚地希望国家 宗教局等有关机构及领导出面协调。

Xingjiao Temple, where the bones of [Tang Dynasty] Buddhist Master Xuan Zang are buried, is facing the danger of large-scale demolition. The reasons given by the local government is the need to apply for the title of World Cultural Heritage Site for the Silk Road. It is said that the plan is to invest in a “Xingjiao Temple Buddhist Cultural Tourism Scenic Area construction project”. My Buddhist friend Master Kuanchi, as abbot of the temple, has tried to put a stop to this with no results. Netizens are calling for my support. I think this is an important issue, as an actor, I sincerely hope that the relevant authorities and the leadership of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs stands up to deal with this issue.

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 demolition! If you support me, please forward my post! Let microblogging public opinion prevail.

Art gallery director “Shuai mindan” echoed [zh]:


Powerful real estate can wash away any remains of civilization, how sad!

News commentator Yang Jinlin wrote [zh]:


I have to say, the world heritage of our nation is not McDonald's, or a fake antique street. Please do not use the excuse of globalization or pragmatism to destroy 5,000 years of civilization. If anyone wants to use the application for the title of World Cultural Heritage Site as a cash dispenser to ruin cultural heritage, we will protest against it.

Strategic investment expert Yue Chuanbo analyzed [zh] the deeper problems that have led to the temple's demolition:

这是权力与资本在中国野蛮生长的一个表现。当失去了道德,而权 力本身又几乎不受制约的时候,权力和资本就会沿着有利于私人的路径放浪狂奔,它们不在意破坏一切,包括人们的物质家园和精神家园。民众要通过广泛的发声, 形势正义的声势;而高层需要道义的觉醒。

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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