One temple demolished Tuesday was run by local Communist Party officials who allegedly fleeced worshippers, state media said.
The demolitions began at the start of December in rural areas around the port city of Wenzhou, said a spokesman for the city Foreign Affairs Office. He said some buildings in Wenzhou itself might also be destroyed.
``In rural areas, religious superstition is still very rampant,'' said the spokesman, who would give only his surname, Zhou. ``The government's goal is to demolish those illegal buildings as well as correct those decadent rural lifestyles.''
A spokesman for the Wenzhou city propaganda department, Lu Tianlei, said as many as 450 buildings have been destroyed. Most were in the Ouhai district of Wenzhou and in nearby Yongjia and Yueqing counties, Lu said.
A Hong Kong human rights group put the number of destroyed buildings much higher at 1,200. The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said the buildings were being dynamited and some were more than a century old.
The communist government, which recognizes only five religions, is in the midst of a crackdown on the Falun Gong meditation sect and other unauthorized religious activity. It accuses many illegal groups of defrauding or abusing followers.
Traditionally isolated from central government control by the sea and inland mountains, Wenzhou has a free-spirited reputation as a spot where religion and private enterprise and smuggling and other unauthorized activities flourish.
In Yueqing, the Yangshan Temple was run for profit by local officials, China Central Television reported on its Web site. It said they kept donations from worshippers and then auctioned rights to run the temple for 500,000 yuan ($60,000). There was no word on whether the party officials were punished.
The temple was demolished Tuesday, the official newspaper Wenzhou Chaoshang News said on its Web site. The Information Center in Hong Kong said it was more than a century old. Neither state media nor the rights group described which sect the temple belonged to.
The area around Wenzhou has numerous small Christian churches built by European traders in the 18th and 19th centuries, though it wasn't clear whether they were targeted in the crackdown.
Officials gave conflicting accounts of whether the demolitions were linked to the national crackdown. Zhou, the Foreign Affairs Office spokesman in Wenzhou, said they were a local initiative.
``This could be a good example for other cities,'' he said.