Last week, a 98-foot-tall statue of the Chinese deity Guan Yu was covered with an enormous sheet in the Indonesian town of Tuban, in East Java. The statue, erected at a cost of 2.5 billion Indonesian rupiahs (~$187,000) by the local Kwan Sing Bio Temple and inaugurated in July, was said to be the largest representation of the 3rd century CE general (who was elevated to the status of deity during the Ming Dynasty) in Southeast Asia, according to Shanghaiist. Locals had hoped it would attract more tourists to Tuban — the Temple currently has a rating of four out of five, from 21 reviews, on TripAdvisor — but it also drew the ire of Muslim and nationalist protesters who are calling for its destruction, Reuters reported.
Protesters last week rallied outside parliament in the capital of East Java, Surabaya, some 60 miles east of Tuban, brandishing signs with slogans like “Demolish It” and “We are not worshipers of idols.” Others equated the construction of a giant statue of a foreign general to an act of treason.
Though Indonesia is a majority Muslim nation — followers of Islam account for some 87% of the country’s over 260 million citizens — it is a secular country whose constitution protects freedom of religion. Nevertheless, following last week’s protests the administrators of the Kwan Sing Bio Temple, in consultation with the Forum of Religious Harmony, a governmental body, decided to cover up the statue.
The protests against the giant Guan Yu statue — which, it should be noted, seems quaint compared to the 1,320 ton sculpture of the warrior-god inaugurated in the Chinese city of Jingzhou last year — are seen by many as symptomatic of growing intolerance in the traditionally moderate nation. The most high-profile manifestation of those shifting attitudes was the ousting and imprisonment of the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama — a Christian of Chinese ancestry — who was found guilty of inciting violence and criminal blasphemy for quoting a passage from the Quran in a speech. In May, he was sentenced to two years in prison.
An especially large share of Indonesia’s rising intolerance is directed at the country’s ethnic Chinese population, which is seen by some as standing to profit from China’s growing influence in the region and the world. “Anti-Chinese sentiment has become quite strong,” Aan Anshori, of the East Java Muslim Anti-Discrimination Network, told the New York Times. “It’s quite worrying to think that these sentiments could be used by politicians in the future.”
For now, the fate of Tuban’s towering Guan Yu remains unknown. Those needing their fix of Guan and his epic exploits will have to content themselves with 2010’s blockbuster biopic of the warrior, The Lost Bladesman.