China’s ruling Communist Party has ordered local governments to crack down on the construction of large outdoor religious statues amid increasing restrictions on expression of faith of all kinds.
The directive from the United Front Work Department mainly targets followers of Buddhism and Taoism, two of China’s five officially recognised religions.
“The meeting required all localities to take up the regulation of large outdoor religious statues as their top priority in preventing the further commercialisation of Buddhism and Toaism,” the directive said.
Thousands of Buddhist and Taoist temples and shrines, along with mosques and churches, were damaged or destroyed under communism, especially during the violent 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
Although many have been restored and reopened since then, new regulations and a bureaucratic overhaul earlier this year have put the day-to-day running of religious affairs directly under the officially atheistic party.
That has been accompanied by a renewed campaign promoting atheism and loyalty to the party, along with a push to study the works of one of communism’s founding fathers, Karl Marx, who famously wrote that religion “is the opium of the people”.
The anti-religion drive overlaps with campaigns to promote patriotism and party loyalty, oppose separatism among ethnic minorities and fight Western liberal values.