Authorities in Xian, the Chinese city home to the Terracotta Warriors, have ordered most of the buildings in a 1,300-year-old Buddhist temple demolished, staff said Thursday, provoking online outrage.
The Xingjiao Temple holds relics of Xuan Zang, a Chinese monk who travelled to India to retrieve Buddhist scriptures in the 7th century.
His trip was the basis of a popular 1988 Chinese television drama Journey to the West -- and also inspired an earlier Japanese show, Monkey, which became cult viewing in Britain and Australia.
The temple has been asked to remove two-thirds of its buildings by the end of May, a staff member told AFP on Thursday, including the monks' dormitory, canteen and some "rooms to hold Buddhist services".
"The clearance will definitely hurt some ancient sites," he said.
Some of the structures to go were recent, he said, but added: "The place will be almost flattened if all those are pulled down... How can we present the history of the temple then? (Those left) would look very isolated."
The move is part of preparations for an application for UNESCO World Heritage status for several sites in Shaanxi province along the Silk Road, an ancient trade route running from the Middle East to China.
The authorities "said many buildings must be pulled down for the success of the application", said the staff member, who declined to be named.
The demolition order has triggered outrage online in China and among some Chinese scholars, who lashed out at the local government.
"Isn't the (local government) confusing cause and effect if it ignores the protection of heritage itself to pursue heritage recognition?" wrote Wang Yunxia, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, in a commentary carried by the Beijing News on Thursday.
In Journey to the West, Xuan Zang had three companions including the Monkey King and Zhang Jinlai, the actor who played the character, called on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo for a stop to the clearance.
"As an actor I sincerely hope the State Administration for Religious Affairs and other relevant government agencies will step in to co-ordinate on it," he said.
Xian government officials were not available for comment when contacted by AFP.