12/18/2009, 00.00
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Shaolin, kung fu monks, become a money making brand

The government is negotiating with a tourism giant to transform the monastery of Dengfeng into a rich joint venture for tourism. Abbot indicted, considered a ruthless business, who kick-started the selling off of the cradle of Zen.

Dengfeng (AsiaNews / Agencies) - China Travel Service (CTS, Chinese tourism giant) has  announced it has opened negotiations with the city of Dengfeng, Henan, to transform the ancient monastery of Shaolin into a successful brand. The meeting was confirmed by municipal leaders, who have stressed, however, they "have not yet signed any contract with the company." The Hong Kong branch of the CTS is responsible for ongoing negotiations.  

According to available details, the monastery does not form part of future joint ventures and its abbot, Shi Yongxin, has been kept in the dark regarding negotiations. However, many Buddhist faithful in the area have accused him of being the true promoter of the initiative: the expensive tastes of the abbot are well known, who at the beginning of 2009 "accepted" a garment woven with gold worth of 160 thousand yuan [16300th euro] from a private firm.

The first meeting for the new company took place December 9: according to Bejing News, rights of entry into the monastery and the exploitation of suggestive scenarios of Mount Song - where there religious  site is located - are around 49 million Yuan [approximately 5 million Euros]. The government of Dengfeng is entitled to 49% of the total. The deal, however, seems to be decreasing: last year, in admission tickets alone, the monastery grossed 10 million Euros.

However, the deal has not gone unnoticed in atheist China: the Shaolin monastery, 1,500 years old, is considered a place of national interest and therefore should not enrich anyone in particular. Home and birthplace of kung fu and Zen Buddhism, it has evolved into a tourist attraction and movie set. Its turnover includes even the production of medicines, apart from the famous monks who often travel the world giving performances of their martial art.

Many believe that the abbot Shi is behind this mutation of the monastery, from a place of prayer to an amusement park. He hit headlines after accepting some 20 thousand Euros from businessmen who sought his blessing and an ultra-luxury SUV, worth 100 thousand Euros, given to him by the local government for his contribution to the local economy.

For his part, the cleric denies all the charges. After 11 months of controversy, he returned the robe of gold (but not the SUV). In an interview with Hunan TV he said he has no intention of selling off the monastery, which "houses a priceless cultural heritage."


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