China orders crackdown on large outdoor religious statues

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2012 file photo, a worshipper offers prayer in front of a Buddha statue for her first visit of the year in Huayan Temple in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality. In a directive seen Saturday, May 26, 2018, China's ruling Communist Party has ordered local governments to better regulate the construction of large outdoor religious statues amid increasing restrictions on religious expression of all kinds. (Chinatopix via AP, File)

BEIJING (AP) — China's ruling Communist Party has ordered local governments to better regulate the construction of large outdoor religious statues amid increasing restrictions on religious expression of all kinds.

The directive from the United Front Work Department viewed on its website Saturday appears targeted mainly at followers of Buddhism and Taoism, two of China's five officially recognized religions.

"The meeting required all localities to take up the regulation of large outdoor religious statues as their top priority in preventing the further commercialization 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's 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.

That has complicated efforts toward reconciliation with the Vatican and led to thousands of Muslims being subjected to anti-Islamic indoctrination in re-education camps, churches being demolished and students and monks removed from a famed Tibetan Buddhist seminary.