When is a temple not a temple? It is a question taking on commercial significance in China, following news that a temple is to become an asset in a listed company.
“A place named a temple is not necessarily a temple,” says Yang Tao, director of Chang An Information Industry, helpfully. The venue he is referring to is The God of Wealth Temple, near the Qinling Mountains, 60 kilometres from the city of Xi’an.
Yang’s company has sparked controversy, reports the Economic Observer, after news emerged that it is buying the site from the Xi’an Quijang Cultural Tourism Group.
Last month the State Bureau of Religious Affairs objected, saying that temples should not be listed on stock exchanges. “In the rest of the world there is no precedent for listing the sites of religious activities,” noted the bureau. “The development of the market economy should have boundaries. Society ought to have a basic bottom line.”
But the EO says Chang An Information Industry has completed all the relevant regulatory procedures and plans to go ahead with the deal regardless.
Yang argues that the God of Wealth Temple is more of a historical and cultural tourist attraction. “A temple does not necessarily refer to a place for religious activities,” he suggests.
His firm requires a little background. Yang is also an executive with Xi’an Quijang Cultural Tourism Group, which has injected a series of other assets into Shanghai-listed Chang An Information Industry. These include hotels, travel agencies and other scenic spots in the area such as Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Xi’an city walls.
The God of Wealth Temple is now being viewed as part of a planned “folk culture tourism resort” into which Rmb500 million ($78.5 million) is being invested. The 35-hectare site is designed to bring tourists (and jobs) to the local area. Hotels, shops and cultural performances are touted, with the main draw being the temple itself. The promoters believe it will attract visitors anxious to be blessed with great wealth (a large demographic, WiC would venture). Reportedly, five separate gods of wealth are available for worship, which sounds like a positive for keeping down the queues, at least.
But as the EO also points out, the temple in question isn’t the real deal. It seems that it only opened last year and is not actually the wealth-worshipping original. That’s some 3 kilometres away and dates from the Ming Dynasty. But it was deemed unsuitable for the folk tourism concept, hence the decision to build a replica.
Perhaps that makes it easier for Yang to suggest that his venue is not really a temple at all but a place “to explore traditional culture and generate revenues for investors”.
Nor is this the only religious site causing capital markets controversy. A famed Buddhist resort called Putao Mountain also announced this week it wanted to raise Rmb750 million in an IPO. In its case it is hoping to monetise its Goddess of Mercy statue.
It is visited by devotees praying for the birth of a son.
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