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,
"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.