For a group of Chinese Buddhists, releasing a thousand snakes from captivity into the wild was a compassionate act that would bring them good karma. But for the small nearby village of Miao Erdong, it resulted in a plague of serpents.
The 50 members of the "Let Blessings and Wisdom Grow" Buddhist group left Beijing in a nine vehicle convoy last Friday, driving for half a day with their cargo of snakes into the countryside of Hebei province.
Once they reached their destination, they chanted a ritual and released the snakes. However, they were soon spotted by a man from Miao Erdong who alerted the rest of the village.
The police were called, and quickly impounded three of the group’s vehicles, as the snakes slithered into the undergrowth. Li Guohua, the head of the village committee, said snakes were soon spotted inside some of their homes.
"There is one girl in our village who has Down’s syndrome and her parents are now scared of leaving her by herself in the house," he said. "I do not mind Buddhists releasing animals, but they should not disturb us," he added.
The practice of "Fang Sheng", or compassionate release, has been a Buddhist tradition in China for thousands of years, stemming from the teaching that it is possible to improve your karmic balance by doing good deeds to animals.
In the past few years, however, as more and more Chinese have sought solace in spirituality, it has become a major industry and many of Beijing’s pet markets, with their cramped cages full of animals, depend on it for a large part of their business.