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Shaolin Abbot Cleared in Corruption Probe

By Qing Yuan and Wu Gang

(Beijing) – Authorities in Henan province have concluded that allegations of financial and lifestyle corruption leveled at the abbot of China’s most reputed Buddhist temple, Shaolin, are not true.

Shi Yongxin, 51, who became abbot of Shaolin Temple in 1999 and had courted controversy for running the legendary temple as a successful tourist business, was embroiled in scandal in 2015 after several former Shaolin monks and employees reported that the abbot kept mistresses and had daughters with them.

Shi was also accused of extorting money, pocketing the temple’s money, purchasing numerous luxury cars, and transferring shares belonging to the temple to his mistresses, according to at least five people connected with the temple, including Li Guoying, former head of the Shaolin warrior monk group, and Wang Yonghua, former legal director of a company operating under Shaolin dealing with its cultural products and shows.

The whistleblowers not only exposed the allegations to the media, but also submitted formal reports to the Supreme People’s Procutorate, the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Buddhist Association of China in August 2015.

The reports drew huge public outcry, as many believed that the abbot of a Buddhist temple that dates back more than 1,500 years and is considered the cradle of Chinese kung fu should resist the temptations of the material world.

Henan authorities launched an immediate investigation. In their first report in November 2015, the authorities said that the allegations concerning Shi’s daughters were untrue, and so too were allegations that Shi had once been fired by Shaolin due to dishonesty.

In the latest investigation result released by Henan Daily on Friday, authorities said allegations that Shi had transferred 80% of the stake he holds in Shaolin Intangible Assets Management Ltd. to his alleged mistress Han Mingjun were not true.

The authorities also stressed that the abbot was only holding stakes in Shaolin companies on behalf of the temple. “If he leaves Shaolin or passes away, the stakes will be returned to Shaolin without conditions,” an unnamed member of the investigation team told Henan Daily.

The investigation also found there were 15 automobiles registered to Shaolin, including four imported cars. But the cars belonged to the temple, not Shi Yongxin. The cars were mainly for use by the monks in their daily lives, receptions and official business, the report said.

Shi Yanlu, former coach of the Shaolin warrior monks, had accused the abbot of extorting up to 7 million yuan ($1.02 million) from him. However, the investigation report said the abbot had not received 4 million yuan from Shi Yanlu as alleged. The remaining money had been given as offerings, which was a proper Buddhist temple tradition, the report said.

According to the country’s national regulations on religious affairs, religious groups can lawfully run businesses and gain profit for their use and for purposes in the public interest.

In earlier interviews, abbot Shi Yongxin told Caixin that local government accountants had supervised Shaolin’s financial accounts before 2010. After that, the temple invited third-party firms to do the temple’s accounting and auditing, he said.

Shi Yongxin has built Shaolin into a successful business brand. The temple attracts about 10 million tourists each year, earning 300 million yuan in ticket sales, according to China Business Journal.

The temple also makes money from holding contemplation classes and commercial performances of its kung fu monks around the world.

Contact reporter Wu Gang (gangwu@caixin.com)

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