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Shaolin Abbot Fights Back Against Critics

Shaolin Abbot Shi Yong Xin sparked a controversy after the local government awarded him with a luxury sedan for his contribution to tourism development and promoting the Shaolin culture.

Yesterday he responded to critics for the first time since furious Internet debate sprung up over whether he should have accepted a car worth 1 million yuan (US$125,000) at a tourism conference in August.

The abbot started by asking people not to separate religion from society, saying, "Monks are human beings too. We have contributed a lot to society by fulfilling our obligations, so we deserve the rewards, though I know many netizens scolded me badly."

A survey on sina.com, one of China's largest web portals, found 75 percent of respondents thought Shi Yong Xin should have refused to accept the gift. They criticized Shaolin monks for not attending to their duties and accused the Shaolin Temple of deteriorating.

But Shi defended the Temple's actions.

"The government has awarded all the outstanding companies, so we were not wrong to accept the reward. When I first went to the Shaolin temple 20 years ago, it relied on its 20 mu of land for its livelihood," he said.

"From 1979 to 1985, the local government invested 2,600 thousand yuan (US$325,000) in the Shaolin temple. If we don't use the money to explore how we can develop better, we will let the government down.

"We worked hard on our own to help the Shaolin temple could reach its current standards. If we just sat there doing nothing, there wouldn't be so many people visiting the Shaolin temple from all around the world today," Shi said.

"Some are saying that the Shaolin temple is now too commercialized, but we think we have our own way of keeping our beliefs and practice intact in modern times. We aim to let more people learn about the Shaolin culture through the modern media. We just inherited traditions like not eating meat during the day.

"The national policy is to encourage religion to contribute more to social development. It's within these bounds to sell entry tickets to the Shaolin Temple and help develop tourism. I beg people not to think about monks solely in terms of sending them back to the lifestyle they lived 2,000 years ago. As citizens of China, we are obligated to take Chinese culture to the world," he said.

(CRI September 12, 2006)

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