When in Inner Mongolia I was able to visit a Buddhist temple that is actually still somewhat close to its roots despite being open for tourists. The Dazhao Temple is a lamaist temple built in 1570, and was the official temple of Manchu Emperor Kangxi. It has beautiful sculptures of Buddha and the goddess Guanyin, as well as various other deities. Every inch of the temple is covered in the most beautiful, bright colors. I didn’t take too many pictures, since it is a place of worship, but you all can go visit the temples yourselves if you make it to China. The art there is amazing.
Monks still live at the temple, unlike many other tourist destinations, and it seems much of the temple is under construction right now. The monks’ living quarters were behind all these contruction matierials.
Next to the temple, there is a preserved, ancient-looking antiques street that was surprisingly untrafficked by other tourists. There, I found a Christian church, although it doesn’t look much like what we have back home.
Here is a view from down the street:
Here is the front of the church, which was plastered with oddly colored passages from the Bible.
The Communist government has never been hospitable to religion, although they claim to allow freedom of religion. In discussions with my Chinese friends, it’s clear that often religion is seen as a foreign affair, and a mysterious one at that.
As our tour guide explained, Inner Mongolia is still a relatively religious place, with many of the citizens still practicing Buddhism. Buddhism remains an important part of the Mongolian culture, and seems to be part of what Inner Mongolians feel sets them apart from the Han. Before the Cultural Revolution, Hohat was almost a religious center, with scores of temples. But during the turbulent times of the 1960s, most were razed. Dazhao was one of the biggest, and was lucky to survive. It was surprising how openly our tour guide criticized the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution, and praised the importance of preserving Mongolian and religious culture, much of which contradicts the directives of the CCP.
Life for modern religious people is not easy either. Religious people cannot be members of the Communist Party, and thus cannot hold office, despite the supposed freedom of religion. In many other positions it seems to be a liability, according to my friends. In addition, all churches must register with the government, or else suffer potentially dire consequences. I think some readers may be interested in this article on Christianity in China.