12/19/2015, 00.00
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Religious affairs officials Ye Xiaowen and Zhu Weiqun accused of making money out of religion

A member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences slams two Communist officials from the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the United Front Work Department under President Hu Jintao. “How much did you dredge up yourself,” he asked. Although removed from Weibo, the latter’s postings have remained the website of Beijing’s Pu Shi Institute.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – A respected social scientist has accused two senior Communist Party officials of corruption in connection with the designation of ‘Living Buddhas’.

The two men are Ye Xiaowen, a former head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), and Zhu Weiqun, former head of the Tibet section of the United Front Work Department.

"Director Ye, how much [money] did you dredge up yourself?" asked Jiangbian Jiacuo, a respected Tibetan scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, on 12 December.

Although the questions were removed yesterday, the charges have remained on the websites of the Pu Shi Institute for Social Sciences in Beijing and on Invisible Tibet, a Chinese language blog managed by exiled Tibetan activist Tsering Woeser, the UCAN news agency reported.

The broader issue began China’s Communist Party tried to undermine Buddhist tradition by taking over the task of designating who could be a ‘Living Buddha’ or tulku.

Despite this, Living Buddhas are in great demand among the country’s 200 million Buddhists who are prepared to donate large sums for the honour of receiving their blessing.

One effect has been the buying and selling of the title, reportedly going for more than 200,000 yuan (US$ 30,800). More recently though, this has led to closer scrutiny.

In fact, as many as 10,000 people might be calling themselves Living Buddhas across China, even though the state has only recognised 1,700.

According to Jiangbian, officials with the United Front Work Department have turned a blind eye on the extra ‘Living Buddhas’ for money.

Conflict between state and religion is nothing new in China. Since the People’s Republic was founded in 1949, various religious groups have been at loggerheads with SARA.

Under Mao Zedong, many assets – buildings, hospitals, schools, land – were expropriated on behalf of the “people".

When Deng Xiaoping came to power, a law was adopted in order to return such holdings to their rightful owners. In the case of the Catholic Church, that would be more than US$ 14 billion.

However, not only have SARA officials not respected the law, but they have continued to seize more assets and place them under their own name.

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