In 1995, Zhang Jiuhuan, the former deputy director of the Asian Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had two working experiences in foreign embassies, one of which was as a counselor. Zhang, who was at his prime, experienced and talented, had attracted the attention of his superiors.
At that time, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal was dismissed and a new ambassador was needed as soon as possible. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs first selected from among the counselors of foreign embassies, but there was no suitable one this time. Later, selection was made from the former counselors of the embassies who had returned to China.
As Zhang was a former counselor, he performed well in his work, and was young, and had the potential for growth. He was fortunately selected as the Chinese ambassador to Nepal. When he was appointed, he was in his 40s and was the youngest ambassador since the liberation of China.
Chinese temple in Lumbini
When Zhang first took office in 1995, his country gave him an instruction.The next year, in April 1996, the Americans were going to attack him again at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. So as soon as Zhang arrived in China, he was instructed to do some work, asking friendly countries to assistChinaand oppose this despicable practice of the United States. This is when Zhang approached the Prime Minister of Nepal, Deuba, and exchanged views with him on human rights issues.
After Zhang finished speaking, Deuba said, “please rest assured, I will definitely instruct our representatives in Nepal to cooperate closely with China to stop the unreasonable actions of the Americans.”
Only then did he realise: In Nepal, shaking your head also counts as nodding in agreement.
At the start of 1996, during a diplomatic occasion, Deuba told him that he had to ask for a favor. It turns out that when the tenth Panchen Lama visited Nepal 10 years ago, he promised the king of Nepal to build a Chinese temple in Lumbini, but now 10 years had passed and construction was yet to start.
Zhang didn’t know about this, so he inquired right away when he returned, and learned: In 1984, at the World Buddhist Friendship Conference held in Sri Lanka, the Nepali side proposed to the Chinese side that the Chinese Buddhist circles would temporarily build a Chinese temple in Nepal. When the World Fellowship of Buddhists was held in Nepal in 1986, the 10th Panchen Lama, who was then the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and the honorary president of the Buddhist Association of China, expressed his approval of the King of Nepal and also expressed his approval at the meeting. Zhao Puchu, President of the Buddhist Association of China, also inscribed the words “Zhonghua Temple”[Chinese Temple]. But later, due to the political changes in Nepal, it was delayed.
As soon as Zhang learned about the background, he immediately went on a site visit. The Lumbini Development Committee sent someone to guide Zhang to see the birthplace of Buddha: first of all, he saw a large pool next to a large bodhi tree. To the north of the pool was the stone pillar of Ashoka, on which there were instructions written in Sanskrit, which meant: “Ashoka came here to worship in person in the 20th year of the empowerment. This is the place where Sakyamuni Buddha was born and expressed the willingness to build stone statues and erect stone pillars… It is also specially ordered to allow Lumbini Village to reduce and exempt taxes, and only pay one-eighth of the income every year.”
The deputy director of the Lumbini Development Committee told Zhang that he was very grateful to China, because Lumbini was discovered by archaeologists according to the records of the Chinese eminent monk Xuanzang of the Tang Dynasty in “The Great Tang Western Regions”. So they hoped that China could come to Lumbini to build a Chinese-style temple.
While visiting, he led Zhang to a large, regenerated thatched space and said that they had preserved this place and were going to keep it for Chinese Temple.
Then he pointed to the Tibetan Buddhist temple built by the Dalai Lama which wasn’t far away. They even used this place through which some separatists sneaked into Kathmandu, and then smuggled them across the border to Tibet to carry out sabotage activities. The deputy director said, the Dalai Lama visits every year to give a lecture but if Chinese representatives come, then he will not dare visit.
He also informed that Taiwan stated that if the mainland did not initiate the project, they would come forward. After Zhang returned, he discussed the issue with his comrades in the embassy, encouraging them to hurry up to fulfill the promise, build the Chinese Temple, and report back to their country. They mentioned three reasons to do so: to strive for human rights, to fight separatism, and to strengthen cultural exchanges between China and Nepal.
After this report was spread in China, the country attached great importance to it. It is said that a special state conference was held to study and arrive at a decision to quickly bring up this project that had been suspended for 10 years. At the beginning, it was decided that three million yuan would be allocated, but knowing that would not be enough, Zhang arranged to increase it by another 30 million yuan, for a total of 33 million yuan.
After China made this decision, in April of 1996, when Deuba visited China, the then Chinese PremierLi Peng met him at the Great Hall of People. Premier Li mentioned the Chinese Temple that Deuba had wished for would be quickly built after thorough research and consideration. Deuba was delighted to hear about it. On December 1, 1996, the foundation stone of the Chinese Temple was laid. Time was a little tight, because the construction was decided in April, design needed to be done quickly, and all aspects of coordination needed to be completed. However, the Nepali side pointed out that October 1, 1996 was exactly the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Ashoka Pillar, and hoped that the foundation stone would be laid on this node.
On December 4 of that year, President Jiang Zemin was going to visit Nepal. Therefore, on one hand, the embassy had to prepare for President Jiang’s visit, and at the same time, it had to prepare for the foundation laying of the Chinese Temple in Lumbini. During that time, the manpower was relatively tight. But in the end everyone was delighted about the completion. After two years of construction, the Chinese Temple had been completed. When Zhang was transferred back to China in 1998, the main hall of the Chinese Temple and the supporting huts had already been built. After the completion of the Chinese Temple, they dispatched the abbot. The first abbot was Master Huaishan, who lived there for 10 years.
At that time, China had implemented a market economy, but the conditions in Lumbini were still difficult. Their resident monks suffered a lot, but they persisted in promoting Buddhism regardless, and had many contacts with temples of various countries in Lumbini.
Ten years later, the Dalai Lama never dared visit Lumbini again, and separatist activities were greatly suppressed. Facts have proved that the completion of the Chinese Temple is of great significance forthe healthy development of Buddhism, for cultural exchanges between China and Nepal, development of China-Nepal relations, unity of motherland, and opposition to secession.
From time to time, Zhang inquired about the progress of the temple. He heard that the temple has been doing well for over 20 years. Master Huaishan has returned to China, and now Master Yinshun is the abbot. Now when many people go to Nepal, they will especially go to Lumbini and visit the Chinese Temple.