The abbot of the legendary Shaolin Monastery in Henan Province released the exciting news that the temple's famed northern branch would be rebuilt in Tianjin, the Zhengzhou-based Dongfang Jinbao reported.
Abbot Shi Yong Xin estimated construction would last from eight to ten years, and hoped it would become a world-famous religious and tourist attraction. Work will also begin on restoring a sprawling Qing Dynasty mansion near the temple which will accommodate visitors and pilgrims alike.
Shi Yong Xin's initiative is not a new one since has been an advocate of the plan since 2002. In the last few years, he has traveled several times to the site of North Shaolin Temple in Jixian County, to discuss potential investments for the restoration and to arrange which monks would head up the new temple's corpus.
Costs could amount to 160 million yuan (US$20.69 million) when factoring not only the temple's restoration but that of its outlying buildings covering a three-square-kilometer area.
The northern branch of the Shaolin Temple was first set up during the early Yuan Dynasty but was torn to the ground by Japanese troops during their invasion of China.
Shi Yong Xin's idea has met with great support from both Jixian County and Tianjin Municipality governments as well as by local residents and a task force is already in place to bring the project to fruition.
"Restoring the temple is the common wish of all villagers," villager Xu Wen stated.
The poor area around the site is principally supported through fruit trees and tourism, villagers earning an average of 2600 yuan (US$336.21) per year.
Xu was behind a 2003 petition which expressed support for rebuilding the temple, and was delivered to Beijing by Shi Yong Xin to get national legislators and political advisors to support the idea.
"This is too important for us: our annual per capita income will be raised to at least 5,000 yuan (US$646.5) if the temple is restored," Xu said, showing the financial realities that often accompany cultural restoration.
The temple's history can be traced back to the early period of the Yuan Dynasty during which time northern China was ravaged by the invading Mongolian horde. Xue Ting Fu Yu, then abbot of the Shaolin Temple, did his utmost to beseech the Mongolians for mercy. His exhortations succeeded when the Mongolians refrained from slaughtering the inhabitants of Bianliang City, known today as Kaifeng City in Henan Province.
The Yuan Dynasty ruler later rewarded Xue Ting Fu Yu by naming him master over all monks in the country before setting up five Buddhist monasteries in north China. However, the Jixian County temple was the only to be awarded the prestigious name of North Shaolin.
Gao Wenshan, member of the faculty of Tianjin College of Athletic Sports, revealed that the clout of the North Shaolin Temple was preserved throughout the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties due to its proximity to the capital and power center (modern-day Beijing.)
Meanwhile, claims to the title of "Southern Shaolin Temple" are being disputed between the three Buddhist temples of Quanzhou, Putian and Fuqing of Fujian Province. However, Shi Yong Xin refuses to endorse them, claiming "as the abbot of the Shaolin Temple, I'm not fit to comment on the "Southern Shaolin" issue. But I would say I've never seen the phrase "Southern Shaolin" in the archives or books stored at our temple."
Besides the North Shaolin Temple of Jixian County, the Shaolin Temple has extended recognition to Kongxiang Monastery in the Bear Ear Mountain near Henan's Sanmenxia City, naming it a sister temple.
(China.org.cn by Chen Chao, April 20, 2007)