Buddhist Temple Target of Corrupt Official Persecution
HRIC (Human Rights in China), August 21, 2006
Jiangxi Province, China -- Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that local authorities in Yichun, Jiangxi Province have mounted a campaign of intimidation and persecution against a Buddhist temple administered by a 1989 democracy activist.
The harassment follows allegations of corruption made by some of the temple personnel against local officials, and most recently culminated in the temple’s executive director, Master Shengguan (formerly a political activist known as Xu Zhiqiang), being forcibly expelled from the temple.
Sources say that Master Shengguan’s expulsion was prompted by an incident on June 4, 2006, when he ignored pressure and obstruction by Yichun’s Religious Affairs and United Front departments and joined with another 1989 activist, Li Xiang, to perform rituals of salvation for people killed in the official crackdown on the 1989 democracy movement. On August 19, Yang Xu and Yichun’s Municipal Secretariat head, surnamed He, accompanied by seven or eight state security police, arrived at the Huacheng Temple and reportedly told Master Shengguan that he could choose one of two ways to leave the temple: withdraw voluntarily, or be forcibly removed through official enforcement of laws and regulations.
Sources say that on that same afternoon, two people identifying themselves as public security police went to the Huacheng Temple, and without producing any legal documentation detained a female temple volunteer responsible for selling Buddhist books and religious implements. The woman was finally released nine hours later, in the early hours of August 20. Following her release, the woman told others that she had been taken to an isolated place and beaten and threatened until she falsely stated that she was involved in a sexual relationship with Master Shengguan.
Sources in China told HRIC that several incidents of threats and harassment against the Huacheng Buddhist Temple and its personnel have been instigated by six top Yichun municipal officials: Party Secretary Song Chenguang, Mayor Yang Xianping, People’s Consultative Conference Chairman Zhou Yafu, Religious Affairs Bureau Director Yang Xu, United Front Department Director Xu Jianyuan and Buddhist Association Chairman Miao’an.
Sources say that before Master Shengguan became executive director of the Huacheng Temple in February this year, the temple was run by Buddhist Association head Miao’an and Yichun Deputy Party Secretary Liu Yinghai. Sources accuse the officials of corruption, expropriation of funds and routine interference in the normal operations of Huacheng Temple, citing several specific incidents:
- Liu Yinghai reportedly forced the resignation of the temple’s abbot, who refused to follow his orders.
- On the pretext of developing the temple, Liu Yinghai reportedly sold a large piece of temple farmland to a housing developer. Of the more than four million yuan proceeds from the sale, one million yuan was allocated to compensate and resettle displaced peasants, and the rest simply vanished.
- Miao’an and Liu Yinghai are also alleged to have a personal interest in the contractorshired for designing and constructing a new principle temple building.
When Master Shengguan took over leadership of the Huacheng Temple in February this year, his first priority was to restore orderly operations. In addition to necessary maintenance, regular religious observance and sutra readings were resumed, and receipt and expenditure of funds was reported monthly to dispel the previous atmosphere of corruption. However, in the course of restoring the dignity and integrity of religious observance, Master Shengguan and his colleagues provoked escalating suppression by local authorities.
HRIC condemns the pattern of official attacks on the independence and religious freedom of Master Shengguan and the Huacheng Temple. In sharp contrast to the acts of Yichun officials, who interfered in temple affairs for personal gain, Master Shengguan was acting well within his right to free religious exercise guaranteed by the PRC Constitution. HRIC urges Jiangxi authorities to stop official intimidation, harassment and interference in temple affairs and to order the reinstatement of Master Shengguan.
- 1984: Master Shengguan, originally named Xu Zhiqiang, graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China.
- 1988: Xu published works by dissident journalist Liu Binyan that were subsequently banned.
- 1989: During the 1989 democracy movement, Xu organized protest marches in Xi’an and headed the Xi’an League for Advancement of Democracy. In June 1989 he went to Beijing to mourn those killed in the June 4th crackdown, and on November 17 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Shanxi Province Detention Center.
- 1990: Following his release on September 1, 1990, Xu continued to promote democratic reform in China.
- 2001: Xu was forced to leave his job at the Shanxi Travel Group because of official pressure from the Shanxi Provincial State Security Bureau.
- 2002: In June, Xu took Buddhist orders and was ordained as a monk at Hubei’s Wuzu Temple in December 2002. However, he continued to oppose the authorities’ trampling of basic human rights.
- 2004: In September, Master Shengguan acted as the public representative in a civil action on behalf of an imprisoned Falun Gong practitioner, Wu Yunrui, in which former Chinese President Jiang Zemin was accused of inhuman acts in the course of depriving people of their religious freedom.
- 2005: In August, Master Shengguan became a lecturer in the history of world Buddhism at the Jiangxi Buddhist Institute
- 2006: On January 20, Master Shengguan became executive director of the Huacheng Temple.
Sources say that Master Shengguan has been harassed and investigated by public security police many times since 2003, including the following incidents:
- A Buddhist foundation Master Shengguan established with Xi’an activist Zheng Xuguang, Beijing activist Li Hai and 1989 Democracy Movement veteran Li Xiang in Chenzhou City, Hunan, was forced out of the city by the Hunan Provincial State Security Bureau. The head of the Guiyang County Religious Affairs Bureau reportedly telephoned Master Shengguan and said, “You can eat, drink, gamble and fornicate as much as you want, but don’t oppose the Chinese Communist Party.”
- At the beginning of 2005, Master Shengguan went to Hong Kong to meet with Democratic Party leader Martin Lee, and upon returning to China was reportedly taken aside by State Security officials and told, “Things don’t go well for those who don’t obey the government.”