And Finally

The money monks

Why the shenanigans at the Shaolin Temple?

The money monks

"Touch my website again and I'll..."

Alibaba’s Jack Ma described him as “interesting”, “pragmatic” and “a top private businessman”. But the Venerable Abbot Shi Yongxin of the Shaolin Temple has been the target of furious criticism lately.

Shaolin is the monastery where Zen Buddhism was first founded in China in the 5th century. But any tranquility was shattered last month when its official website was hacked.

The abbot was well-and-truly ambushed. First, a note urging ‘Shaolin evil-doer Shi Yongxin go to hell’ was posted on the homepage. Then, a week later, a hacker posted a ‘Letter of Apology’ purportedly written by the abbot, which outlined his supposed regrets over a series of his misdeeds to gain fame and wealth.

The site is still down, after the Shaolin management got the police involved to help with the investigation. Shi has been widely criticised for commercialising the temple and running it like a business, earning the nickname ‘CEO Monk’. He has also been accused of accepting lavish gifts, charging high fees to burn incense in the temple, and exploiting the Shaolin brand by opening branches around the world. He is said to have considered opening one in Taiwan too.

But what’s his response? In an interview with China Entrepreneur, the abbot revealed that the thought of turning the temple into a company emerged after he ran into four different people pretending to be him.

“There was no awareness toward intellectual property to speak of… so we decided instead of trying to stop others (from claiming to be Shaolin), it’s better to protect ourselves.” By setting up a company, the temple was able to establish a trademark.

Shaolin’s brand has grown in recent years in large part thanks to its association with kung-fu. And Shi’s sensitivity to exploitation of the Shaolin reputation would have been reinforced last week when his monks were challenged to a fight by five practitioners of Muay Thai, sometimes dubbed ‘the art of the eight limbs’.

It was reported – and widely discussed in internet chatrooms – that the five Thai boxers were boasting that they would win five out five bouts if Shaolin’s monks were brave enough to take them on.

But it all seems to have been a hoax. According to the Guangzhou Daily, the five Thai fighters knew nothing about the challenge. In fact, it was fabricated by the organisers of a boxing event planned for the southern Chinese city of Foshan (at which the Muay Thai martial artists would appear).

A representative of the Shaolin Temple shrugged off the whole affair: “We get so many challenges like this every year. But we never agree to fight others.”

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