China sees crackdown on religion

Buddhist spiritual leader, 8 Catholic priests arrested in 2 incidents this month


BEIJING - An American Buddhist group that spent $3 million renovating an 800- year-old temple in rural northern China said yesterday that police and soldiers took back the temple last week by arresting its spiritual leader and forcibly removing 70 Chinese and a small group of Americans.

Earlier this month, police arrested eight underground Roman Catholic priests in a northeastern village after a nighttime house-to-house search, according to a U.S.-based foundation that monitors religious persecution in China.

The two unrelated incidents are the latest examples of what appears to be a government crackdown against some religious groups practicing in the countryside. The government allows worship at state-approved sanctuaries, but prohibits "illegal" worship at increasingly popular underground churches.

Yesterday, officials at the U.S. Embassy consulted with leaders of the Buddhist Foundation of America about the reported takeover of the Dari Rulai Xingyuan temple in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous Chinese region. An embassy spokesman said that U.S. officials planned to meet with Foreign Ministry officials about the matter.

Dan Kendall, a Buddhist from Los Angeles who had traveled to Inner Mongolia, said that the American organization had been renovating the ancient temple for the past year at the invitation of the Chinese government. He said the leader of the project was Yu Tianjian, a Chinese with a U.S. immigration card.

Yu, also known as Living Buddha Dechan Jueren, is the president of the Buddhist Foundation of America and, according to the group, is one of 33 Living Buddhas recognized by the Chinese government. He intended to serve as spiritual leader of the renovated temple.

"We have letters of invitation," Kendall said. "We have permits. Everything was legal."

Officials in Inner Mongolia could not be reached for comment. But Kendall said local officials apparently became wary of a reopening ceremony planned for Aug. 14 that was attracting more than 100 Buddhists from the United States, Japan and Canada.

On Aug. 11, he said, police arrested Yu. The next day, he said, soldiers and police officers stormed the temple and removed 70 Chinese lamas who had locked themselves inside. Later, firefighters removed at least seven Americans from the temple, Kendall said.

"They marched soldiers and police in there," he said. "There were at least 50 of them. They made the lamas get in a bus and shipped them out."

The arrest of the underground Catholic priests happened Aug. 6 in a village in Hebei province, according to the Cardinal Kung Foundation, which is based in Connecticut. The foundation identified three of the priests: the Rev. Huo Junlong, the Rev. Zhang Zhenquian and a Father Huang. The eight priests were attending a religious retreat.

The statement also noted that the crackdown occurred in a part of Hebei called the Diocese of Baoding, which has a history of government repression of religion. A former bishop there was arrested almost seven years ago. Eight other Baoding priests also remain in jail, the foundation said.

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