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CHANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - Buddhist dignitaries from across China and abroad gathered to unveil the world's tallest pagoda in eastern China on Monday, a symbol of both the country's rising prosperity and a budding Buddhist revival.
The gleaming 153.79 metre-high (504 ft 4 in) landmark, which has so far cost more than 100 million yuan ($13 million) to construct, boasts a bronze-tiled roof, jade blocks on its sides and a pinnacle of gold.
"If our economy is developing well, religion would also be developing at a fast pace."
Since the end of the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, China's ruling Communist Party has allowed religion in controlled settings, although the most dramatic spiritual threat to party rule, the Falun Gong movement, was outlawed in 1999.
Buddhism, with more than 100 million followers in China, is the favoured religion of the central government to fill the spiritual void of China's increasingly affluent population and ease growing social unrest.
"All religions advocate peace, so it is the same for Buddhism. So we have to take the initiative to spread the message of peace and harmony in today's modern society, and to inculcate some ideas of Buddhism into our society and our lives," said Reverend Kuo Hui, deputy abbot of Tianning Temple.
"For us we decided to rebuild this pagoda so as to inherit the fine traditions of Buddhism and to honour Buddha."
BLESSINGS FOR REBUILDING
The Tianning Temple, near the centre of this city of 1 million, traces its origins back more than 1,300 years to the Tang Dynasty, although its pagoda was destroyed by dynastic wars.
The rebuilding of the Tianning pagoda received the blessing of the local government, as well as the official Buddhist Association of China, when it was proposed in 2001. Temple officials said it drew donations of money and artefacts from all over China as well as from Chinese residing overseas.
Monday's opening ceremony was attended by 108 heads of Buddhist associations and temples worldwide.
"The world today is very chaotic. There is war in Iraq and there is war in Afghanistan. Our world is not peaceful today. So Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, and also including China's Taoism and Confucianism, they are the advocates of peace and harmony," said a 77-year-old attendee surnamed Zhou.
Last year, China gave its blessings to the country's first major international forum on religion since 1949, the World Buddhist Forum, attended by about 1,000 monks and experts on Buddhism in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China.
But Chinese leaders have warned in speeches that religious revival is a force for subversion and potential chaos, and China frowns on unsanctioned religious gatherings.
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