Halted cru­sade

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

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Huang Jingjing

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.

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.

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

Pho­tos: Cour­tesy of Master Daolu

Left: Master Daolu per­forms re­li­gious rit­u­als with other monks.

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