My body is a temple…

From Buddha to bathhouse

My body is a temple…

Is cleanliness next to godliness? Well, the Beibei district government seems to think so. A 1,600 year old Buddhist temple in this suburban neighbourhood of Chongqing is being forced to make room for a… um, bathhouse.

According to China Economic Times, the developer of the bathhouse, Bolian Group, was commissioned by the Beibei district government to build a giant spa centre, which will surround the Wenquan temple.

But the monks in Wenquan lament that the bathhouse will disrupt the tranquil Buddhist environment. “How can a worshipper accept scantily clad bathers walking among them? Why can’t they [the developers] give us peace and leave us alone?” said one of the exasperated monks. Already, worshippers have been turned away from the temple since construction began; the monks complained that even the incense has stopped burning.

The government’s decision to build a bathhouse next to the temple has riled the Chinese cyberspace community too, which has been encouraged to stand up to the “rampant destruction of an ancient relic,” by the blogging of a tech-savvy monk.

Bathhouses in China have a less than spotless reputation and have been known to offer “other services” (see WiC1). One netizen went as far to accuse the local government of colluding with moneyed capitalists to turn the ancient temple of worship into a “brothel”.

The monks now demand that the developer build a wall around the temple’s property to block unsightly views of naked bathers. Also, the monks insist that patrons of the bathhouse do not pass through the temple to access the facility.

“If they insist that we find another road, we will have to think about pulling out our investment,” says Wang Min, a company executive at Bolian. The developer finds the monks’ demands dispiriting: “This project should be beneficial for both sides, why do things have to end like this?”

The story is another example of the less than perfect marriage between cultural and commercial interests in China.

The Beibei government, which owns the property rights to the temple, seems to be more focused on the commercial value of the bathhouse.

The monks think it should be more concerned with the cultural integrity of their Buddhist temple. Such clashes have become increasingly prevalent since the era of economic reform began.

But in a small victory for the monks, officials from Chongqing’s city government have rejected the developer’s proposal to take on management of the temple, and to integrate it with their spa business.

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