Monk who persuades women not to have abortion and helps raise kids now at loggerheads with government

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/15 22:50:08

Master Daolu carries the child of a mother who had considered getting an abortion. Photo: Courtesy of Master Daolu

Over the last month at a maternity hospital in Nantong, East China's Jiangsu Province, four women have given birth accompanied by a shaven-headed man wearing a grey gown. He was not a hospital worker, or one of their relatives, but Master Daolu, the abbot of Wanshan Temple in the city.

The medical staff at the hospital know him well. Over the past five years, he has accompanied a number of women who have come to the hospital to give birth. Nearly all the women, most of whom were in their 20s, were unwed and had wanted to terminate their pregnancies.

Abortions are legal in China as long as they are not sex-selective or carried out after the fetus is 14 weeks old. However, Master Daolu is an ardent campaigner against all abortion, as Buddhists generally believe that the fetus has a soul at conception and that abortion is no different to murder.

He and his disciples offer the women shelter, convince them to take their pregnancies to full term and care for their children in a nursery that he runs. So far, more than 150 women have received help from him, he said.

Most women left the nursery with their children, but some left them to Daolu, as they were worried that the babies would affect their search for a husband, a job and a new life. Pregnancy outside of marriage is still seen by many in China as something shameful. Most of the women Daolu helped were in poor financial situations.

Sudden ban

However, the local government in Rugao, a county-level city under Nantong's jurisdiction, recently sealed up his villa, which he had converted into a foster home to shelter the women and their children.

According to a copy of the agreement he signed with the local government on July 12, all the women had to leave and take their children with them. He also shall cease all further rescue work of women and children in Rugao.

Daolu claims that he was forced to sign the letter. "They threatened to inform the women's families and send the children to public foster homes. But many of them had hidden the truth from their families. I had no other choice," Daolu told the Global Times. "The mother chose me instead of a public foster home, as they could return to see their children or take away them at any time."

Public foster homes only receive orphans and the mothers don't know of their babies' whereabouts after they are adopted, he explained.

Daolu didn't disband the women and children as he promised in the letter, instead moving them out of Rugao to Nantong and arranging for them to live in apartments he had rented or the homes of lay Buddhists.

He said that there are currently more than 20 women waiting to give birth and 23 children up to 5 years of age under his care.

Religious workers are allowed to engage in child adoption work in China. Daolu has registered with the religious authorities in Linfen, Shanxi Province, but his credentials are not recognized by Nantong, and his application to be re-registered in the city has been rejected. He believes it is a method being used by the officials to shirk their responsibility once and for all. "They worry that if an accident or fire happens at the foster homes, they will be held responsible," Daolu said.

Master Daolu performs religious rituals with other monks. Photo: Courtesy of Master Daolu

Spreading the word

Daolu had been a businessman before entering Puxian Temple in Nantong and becoming a monk in 2010. In 2012, he came to Wanshan Temple, set up a nursery home and started campaigning against abortion using donations and his own money.

After spreading messages online and through his disciples, women who found themselves in desperate straits came to him. In March, his deeds were widely reported by media and more women approached him. This troubled the local government. "It's not good for their reputation," said Daolu.

Li Hua (pseudonym) learned about Daolu through these media reports and decided to seek his help.

"My boyfriend insisted that I have an abortion and we eventually broke up," Li, the mother of a 4-month-old baby who still lives in an apartment rented by Daolu, recalled to the Global Times. "My parents didn't know about my pregnancy and I became desperate. I had planned to have an abortion, but the doctor told me the fetus was already 4 months old and there would be health risks if I went through with it."

In addition to accommodation and psychological guidance, Daolu and several volunteers also provide other services, including organizing and paying for regular prenatal checks, she said.

"Whenever any child is sick or needs to be vaccinated, or a woman is about to go into labor, Master Daolu always shows up and accompanies them himself," Li said.

Due to a well-developed network, Daolu has been invited to several other temples to share his experience. Under his guidance, a similar nursery home was recently established in Linfen.

But there have also been criticisms made against him, including those of illegal fundraising, child-trafficking and indulging in "moral degeneration." The police came, investigated and found the allegations baseless.

No giving up

While these accusations didn't bother Daolu, pressure from the government did. After the Nantong government restricted his involvement in the cause, he began directing some of the women seeking help to temples outside Nantong, entrusting the care of the babies to lay Buddhists near the temple.

"Most of these disciples are middle-aged or older. They are generous, their children have grown up and they have time on their hands," he said. As well as providing them milk powder and diapers, he pays them 1,500 yuan ($225) a month and regularly visits them to check on the babies' situation, he added.

Li hasn't yet decided whether or not to keep her baby. "I hope to find a job and raise the child by myself. But I fear that I won't be accepted by my parents and will be discriminated against by society."

Master Zhenran, abbot of Lianhua Temple in Huaihua, Hunan Province, often contacts Daolu and believes he is doing a great service to mankind. His temple also works to help pregnant women in difficult situations. "But since it concerns the family planning policy, population management and civil administration, we are very cautious," Zhenran told the Global Times.

Daolu has no plans to move out of Nantong. "I won't leave. The disciples asked me to be abbot of the temple," he said. "Nor will I stop my rescue efforts."

He will continue efforts to procure the official paperwork needed to legitimize his work and obtain household registrations for the children, which give them access to public education and healthcare.

Newspaper headline: Halted crusade

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