Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that Master Shengguan, a Buddhist monk and former political activist also known as Xu Zhiqiang, has been ordered to leave Jiangxi Province after local authorities in Yichun City expelled him from the temple he administered on August 19. In addition, police intimidated and detained the temple’s Abbot, Master Jiequan. The moves follow increasing pressure against Master Shengguan and Abbot Jiequan after their performance of a religious ritual for people killed in the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, and their efforts to end corrupt official appropriation of temple assets and interference in temple affairs (see HRIC’s August 21 press release).
Sources in China told HRIC that on the evening of August 22, Yichun Municipal Religious Affairs Bureau Director Yang Xu, accompanied by dozens of police officers, forced the temple’s Abbot, 88-year-old Master Jiequan, to accompany them to the temple for an urgent meeting with Master Shengguan at the Huacheng Temple. At the meeting, Yang Xu reportedly forced Abbot Jiequan to issue a formal written notice condemning Master Shengguan for improper relationships with three of the temple’s female volunteers. Attached to the notice was an additional notice from the chairman of the state Chinese Buddhist Association, Yicheng, stating that Master Shengguan was expelled not only from the temple, but also from Jiangxi Province. (This notice is attached to the Chinese version of this press release.)
When Abbot Jiequan refused to issue the notice, the police officers reportedly threatened him until he said to Master Shengguan, “The government wants you to go, Yicheng wants you to go. Since you have someplace else you can go to, maybe you’d better leave.” Master Shengguan replied that he would not go unless the Abbot personally ordered him to do so, at which point the Abbot reportedly said, “All right, if you’re not afraid, I’ll let it go.” The Abbot was then detained by police officers, who forced him out of the temple and into a police vehicle.
Sources say that later that afternoon, when the temple’s treasurer went to the bank to withdraw some money, he found that Master Shengguan’s personal bank account under his original name, Xu Zhiqiang, had been frozen by the Public Security Bureau.
Master Shengguan has refused to leave the Huacheng Temple in protest against the false accusations made against him. In addition, the three women alleged to be involved in an improper relationship with Master Shengguan have decided to initiate a civil action against the Yichun Religious Affairs Bureau and against the chairman of the Chinese Buddhist Association, Yicheng, for failing to protect the Buddhist adherents under their care, and for libeling innocent people without any formal investigation or even a shred of evidence.
HRIC deplores the Chinese authorities’ interference in the operations of the Huacheng Temple, and their undermining of freedom of religion, which is guaranteed by China’s Constitution. The Chinese Buddhist Association should move to protect the rights of the religious adherents under its care, rather than assisting in oppression against them. HRIC urges the Jiangxi authorities to put an end to the unlawful actions of the Yichun authorities, to ensure the personal safety of Master Shengguan and Abbot Jiequan, and to initiate a full-scale investigation of official corruption at the Huacheng Temple.Background of the case:
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 1989 democracy activist Li Xiang to perform rituals of salvation for people killed in the official crackdown on June 4, 1989. Master Shengguan had already attracted controversy after taking over administration of the temple in February this year when he cleaned up corruption and put a stop to expropriation of assets and routine interference in the normal operations of the temple by local officials.Chronology:
- 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.
- 2006: On August 19, local officials told Master Shengguan that he could choose to leave the temple voluntarily, or to be forcibly removed through official enforcement of laws and regulations.