Spiritual ambition

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Monks and spiritual leaders at the legendary Shaolin Temple in Henan Province are working hard this year to promote Buddhism not only in China but across the world.

Two monks perform Chinese kungfu at the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng, Henan Province, for visitors. The Shaolin Temple will promote Buddhism more aggressively this year.

Two monks perform Chinese kungfu at the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng, Henan Province, for visitors. The Shaolin Temple will promote Buddhism more aggressively this year. 

Li Hongwei, a provincial spokesman, said Friday that Henan's major goal this year is to raise the number of Shaolin temples, Taiji schools and Confucius schools overseas in order to enhance the international influence of Chinese culture, Henan-based Dongfang Jinbao Newspaper reported.

While it's not the first time the temple has made efforts to go global, the temple has taken aggressive steps to do so in recent years.

Qian Daliang, manager of the Shaolin Intangible Assets Management Center, told the Global Times that they are making appropriate plans, but refused to share details.

The comments from Henan's government came after Shi Yongxin, the abbot of Shaolin Temple, told participants at a January 8 cultural forum in Beijing that monks around the world need a temple to practice their specific lifestyles and religious beliefs, and suggested that the government could include Chinese religions into its overseas strategy.

The temple's plans have not been free of controversy. Some critics say the abbot is commercializing the temple while others say it's the right way to promote Chinese culture.

There are 40 Shaolin cultural centers around the world and there's a Shaolin Association in every continent, according to Shi.

The temple has dispatched Buddhist masters and kungfu masters to teach students overseas. They focus on Buddhist practices and meditation, Shaolin kungfu, and the Chinese language.

"We try to assimilate into the local communities, and blend our lifestyle with the local lifestyle," said Shi.

"Each center will have hundreds to thousands of students each year. The number multiplies as time goes by," Shi said. "That is how we promote Shaolin culture."

Global reputation

The temple, which has history of 1,500 years, sits at the foot of the Songshan Mountain in Dengfeng. Its popularity skyrocketed after the 1982 film Shaolin Temple with Jet Li was released around the world.

In addition to overseas cultural centers, monks routinely stage performances around the world.

Shi said there were more than 300 Shaolin monks who performed abroad in 2008 and 2009. Last year, more than 400 performed overseas. Over the last three years, Shaolin's monks performed in 56 cities in 29 countries and regions.

"We do not participate in commercial activities. We perform in cultural events," said Shi. "We have been to the Sydney Opera House, the Lincoln Center, the Grand Theatre in Frankfurt, and the Arts Center in Portugal."

Foreign audiences enjoy the Chinese martial arts and Shi said that the temple has won prizes for its performances.

Recently, monks performed during a "China Week" event organized by the Ministry of Culture in Israel. The Shaolin kungfu was the most popular event for Israelis, the Xinhua News Agency reported earlier.

Shi said more than 100,000 foreigners visit the temple each year and many stay to learn Chinese kungfu.

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