'Monkey King' actor hopes to save historic Buddhist temple in Xian

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 1:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 3:20pm

The main actor of a popular 1988 television drama Journey to the West is campaigning to save parts of an ancient Buddhist temple in Xian where a revered Tang Dynasty monk is buried.

Zhang Jinlai, who played the Monkey King in Journey to the West, on Wednesday called on the government to wade in on a proposed project to demolish a part of Xingjiao Temple in Shaanxi province.

“The Xian Xingjiao Temple which houses a relic of monk Xuanzang is facing large-scale demolition…As an actor I sincerely hope the religious affairs administration and other relevant government organs will co-ordinate [on the matter],” he posted on Sina Weibo.

Xuanzang, born in year 602, is a well-respected Chinese Buddhist monk most famous for going on a 17-year pilgrimage to India for Buddhist scriptures. He was the inspiration of an epic Chinese classical novel Journey to the West, which has been made into various television series, movies and comics. The Monkey King is a key character who accompanies Xuanzang. 

As of Thursday afternoon, Zhang’s post was reposted more than 110,000 times and received more than 24,000 comments.

His comment came a day after media publicised a plan that would tear down parts of the temple in an effort to seek Unesco world heritage status on three old towers, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported.

“Some buildings will be demolished because it would make the environment more elegant,” Zhang Ning, chief of Changan District’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, told the newspaper.

Almost two thirds of the buildings on temple grounds would be demolished, but the three towers, including one that houses a relic of XuanZang who died in 644, would be preserved.

According to official documents, the world heritage application lists only the towers that were built in 669, the Daily said. Most of the surrounding buildings would not qualify because they were built in the 1920s, after the originals were destroyed in fires.

After the planned demolition, Xingjiao's monks would be relocated to a nearby temple. 

The monks have lodged their firm opposition to the plan.

“If there was no demolition, we would support the world heritage application. But if the plan includes demolition, we shall quit,” temple abbot Kuan Chi said at a meeting on Wednesday, as reported by the newspaper.

The temple also wrote a response to the plan:

“The buildings gradually constructed throughout the years were built around the Xuanzang Tower. Therefore it is essential to preserve the integrity of the entire temple…The integrity and history of Xingjiao Temple would be destroyed if all the supporting buildings were torn down." 

What could be worse for the temple and the monks is that the demolition plan doesn't guarantee Unesco status. An official in charge of the application process, Chen Tongbin, indicated that the buildings could be destroyed and monks relocated for nothing, the Daily reported based on different accounts.

Also on Wednesday night, a state-owned enterprise denied charges that it was behind the demolition plan in an effort to profit from redeveloping the temple and promoting it as a tourist attraction. The company has stopped participating in all relevant construction projects since January, a post said on its official Sina Weibo account.