Chinese god statue controversy shows cultural conflicts

By Liu Lulu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/9 23:23:40

A statue of a Chinese god at the Kwan Seng Bio temple in Tuban, Indonesia's East Java, has sparked huge controversies in the country recently. Dozens of people, mostly Muslims, rallied in Surabaya demanding the statue of Guan Yu be demolished less than a month after the statue - reportedly the tallest effigy in Southeast Asia at 30 meters high - was unveiled in mid-July. Protesters believe that this Chinese warrior god made no contribution to Indonesia's establishment and thus cannot reflect the country's culture. The statue is even regarded by some radicals as an insult to Indonesia.

 Obviously, the protesters misunderstood the Confucian god and the Chinese culture. Guan Yu leads people against war, and it is loyalty and justice, instead of war as demonstrators believed, that Chinese people worship. Some connected the statue to Indonesia's independence, and attempted to politicize the issue for their own interests. Whatever the case, cultural conflicts have directly resulted in and played up the issue.

As a Muslim-majority country, Indonesia has a long history of excluding, even persecuting the Chinese community. The protest over the statue came at a time of religious tensions in the nation where the Chinese Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was opposed by Islamists and later sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy. Fierce collisions with nationalism and populism are inevitable in the integration of the Chinese culture into the local society.

Earlier, local authorities expressed their hope the statue would become a tourist attraction. According to media reports, the temple in Tuban is a cultural center for the Chinese community, and receives tens of thousands of tourists during traditional Chinese festivals, making a huge contribution to the development of local tourism. There is no doubt that the statue will boost the local economy if it is turned into a tourist spot. However, cultural conflicts now mean this is unlikely.

The tempest over the statue is an epitome of the integration of the Chinese culture into the world. The complexity of cultural integration cannot be neglected during the process of Chinese enterprises' going global and the construction of the Belt and Road initiative. The infrastructural proposal is mutually beneficial, but, due to cultural conflicts, is interpreted by many countries along the route as China's hegemony and economic colonialism.

China should put more efforts into alleviating cultural conflicts. Communications are needed to strengthen mutual understandings, and all parties should learn to stand in each other's shoes in addressing disputes. Cultural symbiosis is of vital importance as well. A community of common destiny is a prerequisite to a more tolerant attitude toward differences.

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