In the Tao Te Ching – an ancient text from which Taoism takes its name – there are teachings that warn “there is no greater misfortune than greed”. For China’s nouveau riche great wealth is something normally to be celebrated. Lu Wenrong is not in that camp, partly because he is also a Taoist leader. More recently the brutal kidnapping of his son stirred media attention about his wealth.
On March 23, Lu Wanzhen, one of numerous second-generation rich kids (known in Chinese as a fuerdai), was abducted by four assailants from an underground garage in Ontario in Canada.
At the time of his kidnapping, the 22 year-old is reported to have been wearing a Gucci coat and white Givenchy shoes – the latter being worth around Rmb10,000 ($1,448).
His classmates recall him flaunting his extravagant lifestyle since middle-school, telling Phoenix Weekly that “his usual dress was basically all brands like Gucci and Versace”and that he had disclosed his family was “opening a company to do big business”, but never gave details.
Studying abroad seemed to exacerbate Lu Wanzhen’s lavish lifestyle. He bought an apartment for about $430,000 in cash last December, not bothering to apply for a mortgage. Canadian police confirmed he had also been driving around in several high-performance cars, including a Ferrari 488 GTB, a Lamborghini Huracan, a Rolls Royce Wraith and a Range Rover Velar.
Lu junior eventually escaped from his captors by jumping out of a moving car and hiding in nearby bushes. But after the kidnapping he was revealed to be the son of Lu Wenrong, vice president of the Chinese Taoist Association and president of the Hainan Taoist Association.
Lu Wenrong tried to downplay his son’s ostentatious lifestyle, claiming he only rented the Ferrari and that the other cars belonged to his classmates.
“You just pay a few hundred Canadian dollars a month,” he explained.
But he also tried to distance himself from his son’s wealth-flaunting on social media, saying there was no connection with it and his position with the Chinese Taoist Association.
Lu Wenrong portrays himself as a straightforward businessman who has capitalised on real estate opportunities. In April 2016 he built the Yuchan Temple, which sits on the spiritual Wenbi Peak in the tropical island of Hainan. “This is a deserted place, so it was very cheap,” he told a Beijing News reporter about the cost of the land.
Lu’s main business is “leasing a mountain called the Wenbi Peak, building some temples and developing them into a tourist attraction,” his brother confirmed in comments to Phoenix Weekly.
In an interview two years ago Lu senior said his interest in Taoism stretched back to 1995 and that his particular branch of the religion allows him to eat meat and fish, and to marry, which is not the case in some forms of the belief.
But others have questioned whether a Taoist leader should have had more qualms about trousering ticketing income of at least Rmb100 million from the hundreds of thousands of devotees who visit Yuchan each year.
Later Lu was forced to deny reports that he had splurged Rmb2.6 million of Taoist funds on a girlfriend that he met online, explaining to the Beijing News that this wasn’t true because “my heart is too good, people cry to me, and I say I will help them”.
For those who are cynical about the country’s “CEO priests” – another prominent instance is the head of the Shaolin Monastery – you might count on Taoism’s own founder Laozi for a few words of wisdom. Around two and half millennia ago he told his followers: “The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”
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