Chengdu Mosque Leveled In China

Loss of 1666 Edifice Angers Muslims

By Michael Laris Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 17, 1998

BEIJING, Dec. 16-A Qing-era mosque in the central Chinese city of Chengdu that local Muslims had transformed into a symbol of China's endangered cultural heritage has been demolished to make way for commercial development, sources in the city confirmed today.

Muslims had tried for months to rally support for the Imperial City mosque, built in 1666. Scores of workers and police converged on the site in a swift, nighttime raid Nov. 22 and destroyed the classical wooden temple, sources said.

"The masses have cried over this. It's such a shame," said one Chengdu believer. He said most Muslims have refused to enter a new mosque built by the city nearby as compensation, despite reports in the government-controlled media asserting that Muslims are pleased with the move.

The old mosque was located on valuable real estate abutting a vast new city square, which city fathers hope will help turn Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, into an international tourist destination.

Basharat Jamil, president of Humanity International, a Washington-based aid group that had been working to save the mosque, said the demolition will "hurt the feelings [of] 1 billion Muslims."

On Nov. 19, Humanity International had faxed a letter to Li Zhaoxing, China's ambassador to the United States, offering to help turn the old mosque into a tourist site for Muslims. Jamil sent letters to 12 affluent Islamic countries to raise funds for the mosque and several expressed interest in the proposal, he said.

The mosque was demolished on Nov. 22, but on Nov. 30, Li responded with what Jamil thought was a positive letter. In reference to the new mosque built by Chengdu authorities, Li wrote that "it cannot be put into operation until the believers who disagree with the decision of relocation can be brought around." "This gave us a lot of hope. We were working hard," Jamil said.