Another of those fancy business stories which were too good to be true. Just that this one is a different business – business of religion.
His Holiness the Venerable Abbot Shi Yongxin would deliver the money himself. Five thousand miles from the Shaolin Temple, the ancient Buddhist monastery and wellspring of kung fu that he oversees in the mountains of central China, a city council in Australia had approved his purchase of some land. Attuned to the power of symbolic gestures, Yongxin wanted to seal the deal in person, so in February the cherubic, saffron-robed abbot journeyed from Henan province to Shoalhaven, New South Wales, and handed the mayor a check for $3 million. Yongxin smiled and pressed his hands together, as if in prayer. “It is destiny,” he said.
Yongxin had negotiated for the property for nearly a decade. He wanted to build a complex there called Shaolin Village, where Australians and international tourists could learn about Chan Buddhism and the temple’s famed warrior monks. But to think of Shaolin Village as a temple would be like calling Versailles a house. In addition to a monastery and kung fu academy, the development Yongxin envisioned included a four-star hotel with 500 beds, residential villas, and a 27-hole golf course, at a cost of more than $270 million.
Yongxin, in his 16 years as head of the Shaolin Temple, had presided over many business ventures and was known across China and the world as the “CEO monk.” Since taking his vows of piety in the early 1980s, he had transformed the Shaolin Temple—a picturesque compound of prayer halls, tree-dabbled courtyards, and Buddhist shrines set against a lush mountainside—from a poor and relatively unknown outpost into a global brand. He became a symbol of the successful intersection of church, state, and commerce in China, a kind of anti-Dalai Lama who enjoys political favor as well as spiritual status.
Yongxin first drew national attention in China in the mid-1990s, when he filed a lawsuit against a company that produced Shaolin brand sausages—a product that was not only unauthorized but also, given the Buddhist monks’ vegetarianism, particularly off-message. To prevent further brand dilution, he created the Henan Shaolin Temple Industrial Development Co. and registered the name Shaolin as a trademark. While abbots had traditionally overseen only the temple grounds, Yongxin got the shabby warren of shops and martial arts schools outside the complex demolished, in the name of preserving its character, and he clashed with the local government over ticket sales to the region. He also created the Shaolin Kungfu Monk Corps, a touring troupe that performs for paying audiences from Thailand to Canada.
For centuries, the monks of the Shaolin Temple mostly prayed and practiced martial arts, while living off the land and the donations of worshippers. Under Yongxin, their activities expanded to include food and medicine sales, construction, entertainment, and consulting. In 2006 the temple teamed with a Shenzhen media company to produce Kungfu Star, an American Idol-style TV competition. Shaolin announced last year that it would begin developing mobile apps, including instructional kung fu software. The Shaolin Village project in Australia was only the next logical step in the abbot’s expansionist theo-corporate empire. “If China can import Disney resorts,” he said in March, “why can’t other countries import the Shaolin Monastery?”
Superb reading all through. Money corrupts beyond a point.
Any lessons for a similar story being built in India as well??
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