Show-lin?
Show-lin?
Liu Jinsong

DENGFENG - Three years ago, the local government of Dengfeng City in central Henan Province ceded their controlling stake in the “Shaoling 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 every day 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 benificiaries 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 RMB (about $25 million) annually, allocated at 70% and 30%, 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 staff 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.

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Society

How The Top Collector Of Chinese Art Evades Censors In New Hong Kong Museum

Swiss businessman Uli Sigg is the most important collector of Chinese contemporary art. In 2012, he gave away most of his collection to the M+ in Hong Kong. Now the museum has opened as the Communist Party is cracking down hard on freedom of expression. So how do you run a museum in the face of widespread censorship from Beijing?

''Rouge 1992'' by Li Shan at the M+ museum

Maximilian Kalkhof

The first test has been passed, Uli Sigg thinks. So far, everything has gone well. His new exhibition has opened, visitors like to come, and — this is the most important thing for the Swiss businessman — everything is on display. He has not had to take an exhibit off the list of works.

The M+ in Hong Kong is a new museum that wants to compete with the established ones. It wants to surpass the MoMa in New York and Centre Pompidou in Paris. Sigg, a rather down-to-earth man, says: “There is no better museum in the whole world.” That is very much self-praise, since Sigg’s own collection is central to the museum.

The only problem is: great art is often political; it questions the rulers. Since the Chinese Communist Party has been cracking down on critics and freedom in Hong Kong, the metropolis is a bad place for politics and art. So how did the collection get there?

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