AUGUST 5, 2014 4:13 AM August 5, 2014 11:07 am
Police officers on July 29 searching a house that some of Wu Zeheng’s followers had rented for the summer to be near his residence in Zhuhai.Credit Hua Xin
The authorities in the southern province of Guangdong have moved against a Buddhist sect whose spiritual leader has cultivated a growing cadre of followers both inside China and abroad.
Mr. Wu in 2010, after his release from prison.Credit Family photo, Wu Fang
Wu Zeheng, a Buddhist master who has long been at odds with the government, was taken into police custody last week after the police staged a coordinated raid on a number of businesses and living compounds run by his group, Huazang Dharma.
Nearly 50 people, 20 of them children, were detained during the raids, according to the group’s followers. While the majority have been released in recent days, Mr. Wu and 18 others are still being held at various detention centers around the coastal city of Zhuhai.
The crackdown on Huazang Dharma comes at a time of increasing pressure on organized religious activity outside the government bodies that regulate much of the nation’s religious life. Buddhism is one of the five officially sanctioned religions of China — the others being Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism — but the Communist Party requires spiritual leaders to operate under the auspices of its “patriotic” Buddhist association.
In recent months, the Communist Party has sought to rein in some Islamic practices among ethnic Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang and opened a campaign against more than a dozen religious groups it has categorized as “evil cults.” Since last spring, the authorities in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang have forced scores of Protestant congregations to remove the crosses atop newly built church structures, provoking a number of violent confrontations between congregants and the police.
Last week, the American State Department, as it has since 1999, listed China as a “Country of Particular Concern” in its annual report on international religious freedom.