TAIYUAN -- Chinese authorities have banned mining on mountains sacred to Buddhists after monks protested that blasting was damaging ancient temples.
"We had to endure the almost deafening blasts, but the explosions can't be heard any more. The government measures are taking effect," said Abbot Shi Renfa of the Manjusri Monastery, in the Wutai Mountains.
The Wutai Mountains, the dwelling place of Manjusri Bodhisattva, the Buddha of Wisdom, are home to 47 temples dating back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 AD- 220 AD) and about 3,000 Buddhist monks and nuns.
Located in Xinzhou City, Shanxi Province, the mountains were listed as a national heritage site by the Ministry of Construction last July, and the government is seeking its listing as a United Nations World Heritage. The vote will take place in 2008.
But the sacred mountains are also home to rich iron ore deposits, and have been vigorously exploited by mining companies. About 10 mines have been set up in the area.
"The blasting to extract ore has cracked the walls, and ruined some of the frescoes. I used to worry greatly that they would also break the Buddha statuettes and the outdoor pagoda made of colored glaze," Shi said.
In June, the monks filed a joint letter to the provincial religious association, Shi said.
At the same time, domestic media started carrying reports that the Wutai -- "Five Peaks" -- mountains were being leveled by mining operations into the "Four Peaks".
The monks' letter prompted the provincial government to investigate. "We have to be resolute and take action to protect the Wutai mountains," said Zhang Baoshun, Party secretary of Shanxi.
In mid-August, the city and provincial governments announced they would close the three mines within the mountain range, and suspend operations of seven other mines in the outer regions.
Local forestry administrations also sent workers to plant trees and restore grass coverage on the mountains.
Qin Xinnian, vice mayor of Xinzhou, said the government was assessing compensation for the companies, and planning to transfer the operations of some mines to other sites.
"We are pleased that the government accepted our petition," said Miaojiang, head of the Wutai Mountains Buddhism Association.
"Banning mining will not only protect the environment, but also help the pure and sacred ambience of the mountains recover," he said.