Officials must get to bottom of ugly allegations over China's Shaolin Temple

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 August, 2015, 1:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 August, 2015, 1:39am

The Shaolin Temple is among China's best known cultural treasures and perhaps its most famous global brand. As the cradle of Zen Buddhism and the spiritual home of kung fu and a Unesco World Heritage site, it attracts worshippers, martial arts enthusiasts and tourists. But allegations of sexual impropriety and embezzlement against its abbot, Shi Yongxin, risk tarnishing its reputation and image. Authorities have to fully investigate the claims to clear the air.

State Administration for Religious Affairs officials are investigating the claims by a former disciple. The state-run Buddhist Association of China posted on its website that the incident "had affected the image and reputation of Chinese Buddhism". Shi is a vice-chairman of the association and has been a member of the National People's Congress since 1998. Allegations of wrongdoing against so high profile a person, no matter what the circumstances, have to be properly scrutinised.

Shi has been a controversial figure for much of his 16 years heading the monastery. Renowned in China as the "CEO monk" for his transformation and promotion of the 1,500-year-old temple in the Song mountains in Henan province into a multi-million-dollar industry, he has angered traditionalists who see it as a spiritual place of refuge and worship. Capitalising on books and films centred on its kung fu-practising monks, he has spearheaded a slew of business ventures, among them globe-trotting martial arts troupes, setting up dozens of Shaolin kung fu and meditation centres in Europe and North America and renting the name for a host of entertainment ventures from cartoons to films to stage productions. Plans in 2009 to launch the brand on the stock market caused particular disquiet; the abbot blamed local officials for the idea. He gained further attention in February when he announced a US$290 million project in the Australian state of New South Wales for a kung fu academy, four-star hotel, golf course and property development.

The monk and his supporters dismiss criticism that the projects are contrary to the Buddhist creed by espousing the benefits. They say the efforts are not in the name of commercialism, but promoting Buddhism and its virtues. But there are also pluses for China: developing the brand is a valuable source of soft power that aids knowledge and understanding of Chinese ways and culture. For those reasons, officials have to get to the bottom of the allegations.