Controversial abbot is new Shaolin kungfu chief

Posted: June 27, 2009 in others
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Who is not amazed at the martial arts mastered by monks and thanks to Chinese movies which popularised Kungfu and Shaolin martial arts across the world. Monks learnt this martial art and passed through genertations as a sef-defense skill and I used to wonder at their skills whenever I saw movies based on Shaolin martial art. Today, I saw a report related to Shaolin and Kungfu.

Shi Yongxin, China’s most controversial monk, has been named the principle inheritor of the Shaolin kungfu.

Shi Yongxin

Shi Yongxin

“The decision has been approved by China’s State Council. With the honour, Yongxin is expected to shoulder greater responsibilities and take more initiatives to better preserve Shaolin martial arts,” Chen Gaofeng, an official of the Shaolin Temple, said.

Earlier, Yongxin had caused a stir by accepting the gift of a luxury cassock on June 8. A private brocade company gave the cassock to Yongxin, which had traditional Buddhist patterns such as the lotus and sacred vases woven in gold thread.

Yongxin, however, maintained that the cassock was only a gift and he had never asked for it.

Shaolin Temple Abbot Shi Yongxin poses with the certificate of a luxury cassock, which was given to him as a gift by a silk company, in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009.

Shaolin Temple Abbot Shi Yongxin poses with the certificate of a luxury cassock, which was given to him as a gift by a silk company, in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009.

The Shaolin Temple has been criticised for recently installing lavish restrooms worth 430,000 dollars and the reception of an extravagant four-wheel-drive vehicle from the local government.

The cassock is shown after it was given to Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin as a gift by a silk company, in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009.

The cassock is shown after it was given to Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin as a gift by a silk company, in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009.

Yongxin expressed his delight at the title being given to a Shaolin monk rather than to someone from outside the temple.

People display a luxury cassock, which was given to Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin as a gift by a silk company, in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009

People display a luxury cassock, which was given to Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin as a gift by a silk company, in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009

The Shaolin Temple, widely considered the birthplace of Chinese Kungfu, has frequently been in the spotlight following some headline-grabbing events, such as the super-girl-style Kungfu Competition, a luxury sports car awarded to the temple, and the latest Wushu festival, with Shi Yongxin, the abbot, at the core of it.

Gold and jade accessories of the cassock, which was given to Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin as a gift by a silk company, are seen in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009.

Gold and jade accessories of the cassock, which was given to Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin as a gift by a silk company, are seen in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009.

Shi was admitted to the Shaolin Temple in 1981, when the temple was in a stark recession with only a dozen monks living on 28 mu (about 1.86 hectares) of farmland. He began to act as abbot in 1987 at 22, five years after the internationally acclaimed martial arts movie Shaolin Temple, starring Hong Kong movie king Jet Li, which put Shaolin Kungfu as well as the temple in the international spotlight.

Embroidered patterns on the cassock, which was given to Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin as a gift by a silk company, are seen in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009.

Embroidered patterns on the cassock, which was given to Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin as a gift by a silk company, are seen in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009.

Ever since his inauguration, Shi has stressed the importance of cultural exchange with foreign countries, and has carried out a series of reforms to expand the influence of the temple, securing international renown for the temple and making it a pillar of the tourism industry in Dengfeng where it is located.

In spite of his success in gaining unprecedented attention for the Shaolin Temple, people are questioning whether the temple remains a holy place of Zen Buddhism or has become a commercialised tourist site, and whether the abbot is hero for his reforms or a temple CEO stinking with money.

During an interview Yongxin had expressed his philosophy of keeping up with the times in running the temple with a commercial touch.

“I believe everything I have done in the past two decades is necessary and followed the trends of times. For example, in the past, one only had to deal with a small neighborhood in order to get something done. But now one has to deal with the whole world, which is closely connected through mass media, such as the Internet. As a result, we have to take the times and globalization into account, and try to keep up with them,” said Shi.

When Shi took over the temple as abbot 20 years ago, it was a little-known ancient temple. Today, the temple has under its flag a special liaison office, a temple affairs office, a website, and two commercially-run companies, and the abbot is often hailed as the ‘CEO’ of Shaolin Temple.

Shi, however, claimed commercialisation is not a bad thing, adding that without commerce, he circulation of goods and services would not be possible, and society would regress into a primitive state.

“It is true that I am resorting to commercialization to promoting the Shaolin culture,” Shi said. “But I believe people who concentrate on hard work can understand me.”

Back in 1993, Shi Yongxin took a ham manufacturer to court for promoting the ham under the brand “Shaolin,” which he claimed constituted a trademark infringement. It was the first case on brand rights in China’s religious circles.

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