“Sinicization” Folly: Confucius Head on a Buddhist Statue

07 / 05 / 2019

CCP is reaching new highs in making religions more Chinese: the statue of “First Guanyin of Shandong” gets a facelift, in the most literal sense of the word.

The hybrid statue with the body of Guanyin and the head of Confucius.

Li Mingxuan

In its fight to suppress religions, the CCP’s crackdown on Buddhist venues has resulted in the disappearance of numerous outdoor religious statues throughout China. Some are demolished by using explosives while others are covered up from the eyes of the public until the decision about their fate is made. To make religious venues more Chinese, Buddhist deities have been replaced with the statues of Confucius (551-479 BC), the most influential Chinese philosopher and teacher.

But so far, nothing surpasses CCP’s creativity in spreading Xi Jinping’s ideas of “sinicization” as the transformation of a Buddhist statue in the eastern coastal province of Shandong: Local authorities came up with the most bizarre decision to replace the head of a statue of Guanyin – Buddhist Goddess of Mercy – with that of Confucius.

The statue is located in Chengdongbu village’s Holy Water Pond Folk Culture Park, in Pingdu City Development Zone. In 2011, the village Party committee spent more than two million RMB (about $300,000) to carve a 21-meter-tall marble “Holy Spring” Guanyin statue in the park, which later became known as the “First Guanyin of Shandong.” Villagers and tourists alike frequented the venue to burn incense and pray for good fortune.

The original appearance of Holy Spring Guanyin statue on a propaganda poster

Local residents told Bitter Winter that the village Party secretary informed them last autumn about an order from the central government prohibiting the spread of “feudal or superstitious” activities, including Buddhist beliefs and worshipping of Guanyin. Based on that, he said, the statue of the Goddess of Mercy must be demolished.

Members of the village committee were unwilling to destroy the Guanyin statue but were afraid to disobey their superiors. In the end, one of them proposed a solution: to replace the Guanyin’s head with that of Confucius. The reasoning was that since Confucius is regarded as the most significant sage of the traditional Chinese culture, a statue with his head should not be deemed superstitious.

After more than three months of work that cost 400,000 RMB (about $60,000), the result was extraordinarily ridiculous. The statue that stands in the middle of the park has the head of Confucius and the body of Guanyin – left intact were the traditional robe and her right hand making the gesture of a mudra when the thumb and the middle finger are joined together, with other fingers extended. The only change made to the body was that the jade vase atop Guanyin’s left hand was replaced with scrolls of bamboo slips, the main material used for writing in China before the introduction of paper. The lotus flower at the statue’s base and the Chinese characters for “Holy Spring Guanyin” were taken off, and the initially white statue was painted bronze.

Local villagers were confused and angry to see this hybrid of gender, traditions, and religions. Some complained that instead of implementing their duties, officials are harassing people and draining the treasury. “Just like in the days of Mao Zedong, people aren’t allowed to believe in God or Buddha; we’re only allowed to believe in the Communist Party,” a villager complained.


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