Three years ago China National Travel Service took control of the Shaolin temple with promises of greater investment. But the investment never materialized, and now the UNESCO World Heritage Site is plagued with conflict and scandals

The Shaolin Soap Opera – Economic Observer Online

By Liu Jinsong (刘金松)
July 16, 2013
Three years ago, the local government of Dengfeng City in central Henan Province ceded their controlling stake in the “Shaolin Monastery Scenic Area” to China National Travel Service (CTS). The price was very low in order to attract greater investment, and the CTS vowed to carry out several major construction projects around the ancient site, the birthplace of Chan (Zen) Buddhism and symbol of Chinese marital arts.But as time has passed — with CTS pocketing huge profits via the monastery — the projects it promised have never come to fruition. On July 1, the Dengfeng government finally and forcibly took over control of the entrance to the scenic area. But just one day later, thanks to the intervention of higher authorities in Beijing, CTS had reclaimed managerial rights over the site.
This is but the latest plot twist in the ongoing Shaolin soap opera. Since this famous monastery was declared a national scenic location (and UNESCO World Heritage Site), and became a for-profit entity, all parties that have anything to do with the temple want a slice of the money-making pie. In the name of discovering Kung Fu stars, martial arts matches are organized; beauty pageant candidates appear, in bikinis, at the sacred monastery to attract extra media coverage; new businesses everyday use the holy name as their brand, including Shaolin Automobile and Shaolin Hotel.
Protesting Monks
Of course, the local government and the monastery remain the greatest beneficiaries of this ready source of revenue, the Shaolin itself. Ticket sales of all attractions around the temple make up the considerable sum of 150 million yuan (about $25 million) annually, allocated at 70 percent and 30 percent respectively.
But conflicts exist even between the two biggest winners in this free-for-all. Shi Yongxin, the Shaolin abbot, once complained to a newspaper, “We are the passive party of the ticket sales and take whatever the local authority deigns to give to us. As to how many tickets are really sold, we don’t have a say.”
Seeking outstanding payments from the Dengfeng government, Shaolin monks once even petitioned at 2 a.m. in front of Henan Provincial Government\’s doorway. “Monks are there to chant their scriptures,” one official retorted. “What do they want so much money for!?”
There are also moochers who exploit the monastery, which was founded in the 5th century. These freeloaders include operators of kung fu shows and matches, hotel owners, crooks who build fake shrines nearby for “incense money” donations, or even fortune tellers pretending to be monks.
Many even regard the abbot as a businessman-at-heart. When he appeared at the monastery’s gate to receive the kneeling homage of the hundreds of foreign disciples of kung fu from America, the local crowd applauded with admiration: “Yongxin has got the goods!”
Buddhist Divo
Naturally, fame and wealth also bring trouble. A while ago, one rumor was circulating that Shi Yongxin was accused of possessing tens of billions in savings as well as having a young female student from Beijing University as his girlfriend. Several cameras were discovered in Shi’s bedroom, and certain Shaolin staffers believe that the spying devices were installed because the monastery had managed to halt a hotel project.
In addition to the direct financial interests, Shi’s frequent media coverage has also been the source of local jealousy and disharmony. Some government officials say privately that he is self-centered and pompous, and always winds up standing in the middle whenever group photos are taken with VIP visitors, including the first time a head of state, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, paid a visit to the temple to watch a kung fu demonstration.
The birthplace of Zen seems incapable of learning its own ancient lessons about inner peace.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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