China's ruling Communist Party has ordered the provincial governments to regulate construction of large outdoor religious statues in a bid to prevent "commercialisation" of Buddhist and Taoist religions, official media reported on Saturday.
Both Buddhism and Taoism have been officially recognised in Communist China with thousands of temples, even though they were subjected to heavy crackdown during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) headed by Communist Party of China (CPC) founder Mao Zedong to cleanse China of its spiritual past.
Local governments have been asked to ramp up efforts to regulate the construction of new large outdoor religious statues, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the CPC directed on Friday.
Chinese society has reached common ground on regulating the commercialisation of Buddhist and Taoist activities and the practice of building large outdoor religious statues has made some progress, but more challenges still lie ahead, according to a meeting held by the UFWD in Beijing on Wednesday, Global Times reported.
While Buddhism which emanated from India remained the oldest religion in China, Taoism, also known as Daoism, is an indigenous religious or philosophical tradition of Chinese origin.
Buddhist statues are dotted all over China as Buddhism remained a dominant religion in the country.
An official white paper on religions in China released last month said China has 200 million believers.
The major religions practised in China, which are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism, have more than 3.80 lakh clerical personnel, it said.
There are about 5,500 religious groups in China, including seven national organisations, and about 144,000 places of worship registered for religious activities, including 33,500 Buddhist temples of different schools, 9,000 Taoist temples.
Since President Xi Jinping took over power, heading the CPC, the Presidency and the military, and becoming the most powerful leader of China in recent years, he has been emphasising on the CPC strengthening the credentials of its core Marxist ideology wedded to the atheistic values.
The UFWD has asked the local governments to create specific plans and timetables for regulating the construction of any new large outdoor religious statues and preventing the further commercialisation of religions must be their "top priority".
"The regulation on religious statues doesn't mean the country is against religion, it aims to stop religions from profit-making activities," Xiong Kunxin, a professor with Beijing's Minzu University of China, told the Times.
Over-commercialisation will contaminate the sanctity of religion and threaten social stability, Xiong said.
Zhu Weiqun, former chairman of the ethnic and religious committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said that "the crackdown must be resolute. We cannot give up halfway. The phenomenon still largely exists across China".