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Chinese Government to Dynamite Religious Shrine:

When the Taliban demolished statues of the Buddha, many people all over the world, including many non-Buddhists, denounced the destruction as an act of barbarism. The government of China has announced plans to perpetrate a similar atrocity.

In Tianjiajing, Henan province (east-central China)is a century-old sanctuary of the Virgin Mary. The sanctuary was nearly destroyed by the Japanese, and later by the Red Guards, but since 1979, citizens have been rebuilding it.

The sanctuary features a statue of Mary in her role as "Our Lady of Mount Carmel." On July 16, the worldwide Mount Carmel feast day, as many as fifty thousand pilgrims visit the sanctuary. Yet as reported in AsiaNews.it, the provincial government has recently forbidden visits to the shrine, and declared that the police and military will prevent the July 16 pilgrimages. Moreover, the government has declared that the entire shrine will be dynamited. Nor will local Catholics be allowed to save the Mary statue, or other sacred artwork on the site, by removing them before the explosions go off.

Some local Catholics believe that the government may want the property, which sits high on a mountain overlooking a valley, to build a hotel, or for a home for a high Communist party official. This certainly possible; as Mencius, the greatest developer of Confucian thought, observed, "Now the way feudal lords take from the people is no different from robbery." But mere rapacity does not explain why the government is so determined to destroy the statue, rather than allow it to be taken to another location.

The Chinese government is terrified of large public assemblies not directed by the government. Should the Mary statue not be destroyed, its new location might become a site of mass gatherings. People at the mass gathering would of course remember the history of the theft of the statue's original location.

Around the world, many people are urging their own governments to request that the Chinese government cancel plans to demolish the Tianjiajing sanctuary. The dynamiting would reveal the current Chinese regime, at least in this regard, as even more maliciously destructive than the Japanese fascist army or Maoist Red Guards.

"The mandate of heaven" was the traditional ideological basis of the rule of a Chinese government. Mencius said: "Heaven sees as the people see; Heaven hears as the people hear." Thus, the dissatisfaction of the people could remove the mandate of Heaven from a ruler, and place it on another ruler. Mencius considered revolution to be morally imperative in some cases.

A government which trembles in fear at the prospect of China's tiny Catholic minority gathering to honor the Virgin is plainly a government which has lost the Mandate of Heaven; it is the kind of tyranny against which Mencius and Confucius specifically sanctioned armed revolution. (Analects 11:17: Mencius book 7).

Lior:
Erratum: For "Tianjiajing" you have a link to the Norwegian edition of Wikipedia (no.wikipedia.org) rather than to the English edition (en.wikipedia.org).
7.11.2007 9:10pm
Anon21:
Not that I'm endorsing the planned demolition, which is, as you say, simply an act of repression, but the comparison to the Taliban's destruction of the statues at Bamyan seems a bit off-base. Those statues were over 1400 years old, while this church is, as you say, a little more than a century old. I'm sure that the shrine is of enormous importance to Chinese Catholics, but it is probably little-known outside the country. The Buddha statues, on the other hand, were closer to world heritage sites (although not officially designated as such, to my knowledge).

Again, this demolition sounds like an act of spite, and it should not happen. But I think the analogy to the Bamyan situation is inapposite.
7.11.2007 9:22pm
advisory opinion:
"even more maliciously destructive than the . . . Maoist Red Guards."

You must be kidding. This is nothing compared to the cultural crimes committed by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revoltuion. How you can even compare the destruction of this minor relic with the destruction of Chinese historical artifacts and buildings dating back hundreds if not thousands of years is baffling. Not to mention the scale of destruction during the Cultural Revolution was of a different magnitude altogether. If Zhou Enlai had not pre-empted the philistines' excesses the damage to the Forbidden City would have been incalculable.

A similar lack of perspective informs your comparison of the destruction of the Afghan buddhas with the Tianjiajing sanctuary. One is a world heritage site with deep historical significance, the other a rebuilt monument to a foreign religion that has barely been there for 20 years. Hardly a relic worth preserving.

As for your gloss on 'fear' being indicative of losing heaven's mandate . . . where is the textual basis of that? The mandate is popularly lost only when vast sections of Chinese society (historically the peasant base) are disaffected and ready to revolt. This is not even remotely the case now. Middle class China is sitting pretty and rural unrest has a lid on it. Check back in ten to fifteen years. But don't get your hopes up.
7.11.2007 10:21pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Actually, the standing Buddhas in Afghanistan and the surrounding valley were officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The designation remains even though the statues do not.

I agree with Anon21 that the two situations are not comparable. What China plans to do is despicable on many levels, but it is far short of the atrocity the Taliban carried out when they destroyed the Buddhas. Both are attacks on religious freedom (though there were few if any Buddhists left near the Afghan statues), but the Buddhas were vastly more important — in cultural, articstic and historic terms — than the church in China
7.11.2007 10:31pm
Waldensian (mail):

The dynamiting would reveal the current Chinese regime, at least in this regard, as even more maliciously destructive than the Japanese fascist army

You've got to be kidding, volume 2.
7.11.2007 10:33pm
nunzio:
Looks like all that commerce with China is paying off in bringing democracy there.

Hopefully our CEOs will decry this action by the Chinese gov't. Bill Gates, where's the outrage?
7.11.2007 10:33pm
MM:
My thoughts upon reading this post were similar to some of the other commenters. Perhaps David can clarify his comparison between the current dispute and the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution?


[DK: As the post said, "at least in this regard." Neither the Japanese Army nor the Red Guards managed to obliterate the sanctuary completely, and obliteration is apparently the goal of the current provincial government.]
7.11.2007 11:10pm
Fub:
Edward A. Hoffman wrote at 7.11.2007 9:31pm:
I agree with Anon21 that the two situations are not comparable. What China plans to do is despicable on many levels, but it is far short of the atrocity the Taliban carried out when they destroyed the Buddhas. Both are attacks on religious freedom (though there were few if any Buddhists left near the Afghan statues), but the Buddhas were vastly more important — in cultural, articstic and historic terms — than the church in China
I agree with the assertions about relative historical importance. I also don't believe that it is disagreement to add that the Chinese despots should not be permitted to destroy this artifact without facing the strongest possible opposition.

What the Taliban did in Afghanistan also pales in comparison to the destruction China has wrought in Tibet for over 50 years. This current destruction is part and parcel of their habitual ruthless inhumanity.

There are crimes against humanity, and there are crimes against history. This destruction is both. Its magnitude is irrelevant. Every government that claims to support religious freedom, and every government that claims to value historical artifacts, should take every possible action to prevent it.

Unfortunately I doubt that any will. Just as none seriously attempted to prevent destruction in Tibet or Afghanistan. "Free and democratic" governments' silence so far is deafening, and that silence is complicity.
7.11.2007 11:40pm
BGates (www):
One is a world heritage site with deep historical significance, the other a rebuilt monument to a foreign religion
I guess the Bamyan statues weren't a monument to a foreign religion. I never knew Buddha was Afghani.
7.11.2007 11:51pm
Henri Le Compte (mail):
Fub:
Ahh, but what is the point of making noises that one knows beforehand are only going to be symbolic? Protests will achieve exactly nothing (just like in the case of the Taliban). The only way to prevent something like this would be a show of force-- which would be beyond foolish. Yelling about it only highlights the fact of one's impotence. And what head of state wants to do that?

The impotent complaints from the West about the Bamyan Buddhas perhaps (?) gave them the hubris to dream of a 9/11?
7.12.2007 12:10am
advisory opinion:
"I guess the Bamyan statues weren't a monument to a foreign religion. I never knew Buddha was Afghani."

lol? Buddhism was assimilated in the region long before you were even born! The statues have deep historical significance precisely because they have been there since antiquity, and because Buddhism has long been a part of the religious landscape of Central Asia, including the area now known as Afghanistan. Buddhism is as indigenous as it gets, pre-dating even Islam. There's nothing historically 'foreign' about it except in the most facile, modern sense.

It's like saying the Hagia Sophia and Byzantine Christianity must be 'foreign' to the region now known as Turkey. Because, well, "I never knew Jesus was Turkish!"

Utterly point missing.
7.12.2007 1:11am
whackjobbbb:

The impotent complaints from the West about the Bamyan Buddhas perhaps (?) gave them the hubris to dream of a 9/11?


Actually, they already had the hubris, but they gave us a warning then, and we failed to understand it. I certainly didn't, even as I was physically nauseous as I watched it on television... it was apocalyptic, and I was just open-mouthed speechless and stunned. I don't remember a moment so profound until 9/11... and then I remembered back... to the warning.

No doubt the Chinese are capable of bad things, and a brutal repression of religious freedom is a very bad thing. We might be speaking against it impotently, but that don't mean we shouldn't speak.
7.12.2007 1:54am
Californio (mail):
While the sophisticated may "tut-tut", the more practical (and plain-speaking) amongst us would ask "And you expected different from the Chi-Coms?"
7.12.2007 5:47am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Lior,

What makes you think the link to the Norwegian wikipedia was a mistake? I think that it is laudable that David encourages the readership to practice their other languages. :)


[DK: It actually was intentional. I couldn't find an entry on "Tianjiajing" in the English Wikipedia, and the main thing I wanted to show was the map. I wouldn't be surprised if Tianjiajing appears someplace else in English Wikipedia, with a slightly different spelling. As you point out, it's also good to work on foreign languages; readers who know some German may be pleasantly surprised at how much of a head start that German gives them with Norwegian.]
7.12.2007 6:06am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
To reinforce Advisory Opinion's point, "Afghanistan" as distinct from "Pakistan" and "India" is a very recent notion. Much of Afghanistan has at times been part of "Greater India".
See, among other things, the Wikipedia article on the Kushan Empire.
7.12.2007 6:15am
Fub:
Henri Le Compte wrote at 7.11.2007 11:10pm:
The only way to prevent something like this would be a show of force-- which would be beyond foolish. Yelling about it only highlights the fact of one's impotence. And what head of state wants to do that?
Prevention is most desirable, but lesser result is better than nothing. There are a zillion possible leverage points besides military posturing on the table between two nations every day. To be more than an empty complaint, the condition just has to be linked to something on the table at present, and enforced with certainty.
The impotent complaints from the West about the Bamyan Buddhas perhaps (?) gave them the hubris to dream of a 9/11?
The point is to make it cost the Chinese government something, rather than nothing -- even if the cost does not prevent the destruction. Exacting even a price too small to dissuade the action gives them notice that the free world will not pretend it didn't happen. Better that a bully experience even a skosh of FUD when planning his next outrageous act than that he know for certain that you'll do nothing.
7.12.2007 11:36am
MM:
David,

Thanks for the clarification--I think the confusion stemmed from the phrase "in this regard." If I understand your meaning, the current regime is poised to succeed in totally destroying this particular relic, one that survived the Cultural Revolution and the war with Japan. I think your original wording obscured this point, which explains the several commenters who objected to your statement.
7.12.2007 1:53pm
bc:
I often times wander what lessons, if any, the Chinese Communists gained from the Soviet's downfall. Might this--a possible continuation of the government's anti-religious policies, such as its treatment of Tibetan Buddhism and Falun Gong--not be one such lesson? As David wrote:

"The Chinese government is terrified of large public assemblies not directed by the government. Should the Mary statue not be destroyed, its new location might become a site of mass gatherings. People at the mass gathering would of course remember the history of the theft of the statue's original location."

Can we say: the Pope's 1979 visit to Poland?
7.12.2007 5:36pm
bc:
I meant wonder, not "wander".
7.12.2007 5:38pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
bc:

Personally, I wonder if the West has unlearned the lessons of fighting the Soviets, because there's so much money involved in doing business with China.

I mean, really, there's next to no condemnation at all of China's abominable record of (1) suppressing the Roman Catholic Church and replacing it with a Catholicism that is beholden to the regime; (2) destroying Tibetan Buddhism, including by introducing demographic shifts into Tibet and by kidnapping the Panchen Lama and replacing him with their own, brainwashed version; (3) repressing Falun Gong and throwing thousands of adherents into jail for their faith; and (4) forcing people to have abortions despite their religious objections.

(Of course there are also a lot of repressive Chinese practices outside of the religious freedom context as well, which are also outrageous.)

Seriously, this regime is EVIL. I realize we may be past the point where we can stop them from getting away with this, but can't we at least tell the truth about them?
7.12.2007 7:41pm