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Pilgrim Criticizes Temple for Tourist Scams
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A Chinese tourist from Nanjing City, also a devout Buddhist, intended to pray in the famous Shaolin Temple for good fortune. He was shocked to discover that in order to pray, he could be asked to pay as much as 6,000 yuan for some sticks of incense.


He never imagined that the temple he thought was sacred could become so commercial. The pilgrim expressed his grief about the trip on the popular message board on March 20.


“When petitioners come for incense, the monk there won’t tell you the price but instead invite you to write down your signature first. Usually visitors would think the signature is part of the prayer and not realize it’s a trap,” Man Ye, the pilgrim, wrote in his online article.


“After signing your name, the monk there will tell you that the abbot, Shi Yongxin, will pray for you. He will then point to the incenses and ask which one you want. The incenses look gorgeous, covered in a golden color and in bundles as thick as an arm. Thinking about the abbot praying for you, usually visitors will select a thicker bundle. After the monk hands the incense to you, he would finally tell you that you are expected to pay 6,000 yuan for it.”


The process happened to one visitor in front of Man Ye. “When he heard that he was asked to pay 6,000 yuan, he just stood there. His wife wanted him to leave, but the monk said, ‘almsgiver, you have already written down your signature to sacrifice.’ At last, the man paid the costly incense, hoping he would keep his luck by losing his money.”


Though Man Ye felt himself lucky enough to escape that trap, he was still caught in another minor trap in a different hall. When he finished praying there, one monk asked him to draw a straw from a sachet. In the sachet there were six written poems, and each poem had a number as the beginning word. The monk asked him select a number and told him that the number means a multiple of one hundred days they would pray for him to complete his wish. One yuan is required for each praying day. The author selected the number 6, and left 600 yuan there. 


After the article was released, it aroused widespread attention on the website and was republished on many other websites. Some readers doubt its truthfulness, and thought few people would bring such a sum of money physically nowadays, wondering even if the temple could receive such a sum. But many readers confirmed the truthfulness of the story with their own experiences in the temple. Some readers said that costly incenses are common practice in some temples, especially in the Wutai Mountain in Shanxi Province and the East Mountain in Hainan Island, both of which are hot tourist attractions.


A domestic newspaper, Southern Metropolis Daily, covered the news on March 27. The paper interviewed a manager of the Shaolin Temple, Qian Daliang, who confirmed that the temple has incense that costs 6,000 yuan.


“The incenses once were clearly marked with different prices based on varied length. However, some tour guides have under-table deals with some monks, which might result in problems. When the abbot was conscious of such deals, he tried to stop this,” Qian said.


“But the Shaolin Temple is managed by an administration company, the Shaolin Temple Tourism Development Ltd. Co. founded in 2004, so these things are out of the abbot’s control,” the manager added. 


Man Ye believes that temples are not suffering from a lack of supply. Donations by overseas pilgrims from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore make the supply enough for domestic temples.


With approximately 1.5 million visitors per year and at 40 yuan per ticket, the annual income of the Shaolin Temple Tourism Development Ltd. Co. from ticket sales is 60 million yuan (US$7.8 million), of which the temple receives a quarter, which is 15 million yuan (US$1.9 million).


One reader at criticized worshippers for having the wrong idea about prayer. The reader accused these people of being superstitious, and not true believers. He said they expect burning some incense and pleasing monks will bring good fortune for them. However, he feels the real power of Buddha is not exclusive to temples or worship. The misguided beliefs of some worshippers are partly to blame for the temple’s practice, he wrote in comments.


(Source:, translated by Wang Zhiyong for, April 4, 2007)


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