Money moves in Shaolin
Updated: 2014-08-25 06:57
By JOSEPH CATANZARO/CHEN YINGQUN/QI XIN(China Daily)
Lin Min/China Daily
People come from all corners of the globe to study kung fu, but has the martial art been subverted by big business?
In the ancient mountain fastness of Shaolin Temple, behind the closed doors of a Buddhist sanctum, Abbot Shi Yongxin holds court from a lacquered wooden chair carved with dragons.
At his left hand, a trio of warrior monks stands attentively, 1,500 years worth of secret skills and kung fu technique trained into their loose limbs.
There is something of the snake and tiger in their poise and posture, of the crane and the monkey in the way they move.
Amid the trappings of the past in the ornate receiving room, the abbot and his followers seem like throwbacks to China's age of legend, remnants of a bygone era.
The spell is broken by an electronic jingle.
Shi, the 30th spiritual leader of the ancient order, pulls a smartphone out of his robes. He flips it open briefly to scan the screen, grunts and quickly makes the handset disappear again.
The 21st century has come to the famed temple at the heart of Chinese kung fu, bringing with it a new wave of foreign interest from an unlikely quarter, and a growing debate domestically about what this means for the culturally iconic Chan Buddhist institution.
"We pursue a peaceful and simple life," Shi says. "Our ultimate goal is to achieve the enlightenment of Buddha and to help others achieve enlightenment."
But enlightenment isn't always free at Shaolin Temple, not that this matters to a new breed of acolyte prepared to pay for the kung fu wisdom the order offers.
They are CEOs of multimillion-dollar companies, foreign businesspeople from many fields, and motivated professionals willing to fork out about $800 a month to learn and live at Shaolin.
While this phenomenon is part of a business model that is helping secure Shaolin's future, some believe it is also part of a malaise that jeopardizes its ties to the past.
Every day, thousands of tourists throng the temple grounds, once a quiet retreat for 13 famous warrior monks who, legend has it, took down a despotic warlord and his army during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
In their time, much of the mystery surrounding Shaolin pertained to the arcane, the closely guarded mental and physical abilities that approach the mystical in the telling.
These days the temple is still cloaked in secrecy, but that relates largely to a veil of corporate confidentiality maintained by a separate business entity.
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