Taiwan has remembered one of its most influential and revered Buddhist monks as a man who promoted international harmony and backed peaceful reunification across the Taiwan Strait. Master Hsing Yun died peacefully on Sunday at the Fo Guang Shan monastery he founded in Kaohsiung. He was 95. The monastery said there would be no individual Buddhist rituals for him because he wanted to leave the world in a simple way, but a tribute would be held at the temple on February 13. Hsing Yun’s health had declined in recent years after he suffered strokes in 2011 and again in 2016. He was admitted to a hospital before the Lunar New Year last month and doctors described his condition as unstable. Born Lee Kuo-shen to a poor family in the Chinese province of Jiangsu in 1927, Hsing Yun rose to be regarded in Taiwan and mainland China as influential in both Buddhism and politics. He founded Fo Guang Shan in 1967, and considered himself a Kuomintang member and supporter of peaceful cross-strait unification. He was a guest of a succession of Taiwanese and mainland leaders, including presidents Chiang Ching-kuo, Lee Teng-hui and Ma Ying-jeou in Taiwan, and Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping. He was also respected by former president Chen Shui-bian and incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. He attracted harsh criticism from pro-independence supporters in Taiwan in 2009 when he described the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as “one family”. “Both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one family. There are no Taiwanese in Taiwan and Taiwanese are all Chinese … and we are all brothers and sisters,” he said at the World Buddhist Forum in Wuxi, Jiangsu. He was the target of pro-independence advocates again in 2014 when he said in talks with Xi in Beijing that the “Chinese dream would enable China to become greater and more prosperous”. Despite this view, Hsing Yun remained widely admired among the island’s 24 million people, largely through his promotion of “humanistic Buddhism” and his charitable work in Taiwan and around the world. The Fo Guang Shan order established a base on the mainland in the early 2000s, focusing more on charity and Chinese cultural revival than religion to avoid conflict with Beijing. But Hsing Yun was once blacklisted by Beijing for reportedly helping Xu Jiatun, the former head of Xinhua News Agency in Hong Kong, flee to the United States in 1990. Xu had been ordered to retire because of his sympathy for pro-democracy activists targeted in the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Fearing imprisonment, he boarded a plane from Hong Kong to the US in May 1990. Hsing Yun, who had met Xu in Beijing in 1989, reportedly arranged for Xu to enter the US and stay at the order’s temple in Los Angeles. Though he later said he had no idea Xu was seeking refuge in the US and taking shelter at the temple, Beijing had barred him from visiting the mainland until after Zhao Puchu, then leader of the Buddhist Association of China, vouched for him in 1994. Hsing Yun also encouraged reconciliation between mainland China and the Dalai Lama, and sought to avoid rifts between his organisation and the mainland authorities. His critics often called him a “political monk”, a reference he initially said was unfair. “At first, I didn’t like this reference, but later I thought that politics is part of life, so I didn’t care what they call me,” Taiwanese media reported him saying to a source familiar with the matter. Hsing Yun was recruited by a Buddhist monk at age 12 when he travelled with his mother to Nanjing on an unsuccessful journey to look for his father. He then received Buddhist teaching at the Jiaoshan Buddhist Seminary until 1947. He moved to Taiwan in 1949 where he taught and served as editor-in-chief of the Buddhist publication Humanity Magazine. He founded Fo Guang Shan in a rural area that some said was so remote that “not even ghosts would visit”. But over the years, Fo Guang Shan expanded into a huge organisation with more than 300 centres worldwide as well as hospitals, universities, seminaries, and publishing companies.