Chinese authorities have "restored" ancient Buddhist frescoes in a temple by painting them over with cartoon-like figures from Taoist myths, reports said Tuesday, prompting outrage online.
It is the latest example of controversial heritage preservation in China, where many ancient structures have been destroyed in recent decades, sometimes to be replaced by replicas of the original.
The temple in Chaoyang, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, was built more than 270 years ago and the delicate original paintings had survived, albeit crumbling, until the "refurbishment".
The new paintings are bold, simplistic, and of completely different subjects, pictures showed.
Chinese Internet users lashed out at the works on the country's weibo microblogging sites, branding the new paintings "even worse than cartoons".
I sincerely feel some people's brains were kicked by a donkey.
"As a man from Chaoyang, I sincerely feel some people's brains were kicked by a donkey," wrote a user with the online handle Brave Brick.
"I should have cut the frescos down with a knife and brought them home if I had predicted this."
The tourist authorities in charge of the temple hired "substandard" contractors to carry out the maintenance work and the effects of the paintings were "inferior", the News Express said, citing Li Haifeng, an official with the Chaoyang city government.
Two officials had been sacked over the incident, the Global Times reported, citing Li.
A pagoda in the temple complex dates back to the Liao period (916-1125), it said, but the paintings were in a Qing dynasty hall.