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Lamasery in Hebei hopes for influx of Olympic visiters
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The Puning Lamasery in Chengde, a popular summer resort in north China's Hebei Province about 200 kilometers from Beijing, is preparing for what it hopes will be an influx of visitors during the Olympic Games, which run from Aug. 8-24.

Puning is one of 12 temples and monasteries around the famed Imperial Mountain Resort built here between 1713 and 1780 by emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Lamaism was a major religion during the Qing Dynasty. Emperor Qianlong had a host of temples and lamaseries built in hopes of improving ethnic solidarity, according to Peng Junbo, a local researcher of Buddhist temples and lamaseries.

"To me, the 12 temples and lamaseries stand as proof of ethnic solidarity among Tibetans, Mongolians and Han Chinese," said Tunglaga, 40, chief of the Puning monastery."

Apart from Puning, the Potarak Doctrine Temple, which was devoted to the Eighth Dalai Lama, was built in the style of the Potala Palace in Lhasa and has been known as the Mini Potala Palace.

There are 80 lamas attached to Puning. Most are Mongols, five are Tibetan and two are from the ethnic Tu group, according to Wang Hui, deputy director of the Ethnic Minority and Religious Affairs Bureau of Chengde City.

The 11th Panchan Lama visited Puning last July and was warmly welcomed by the lamas and local people, said Meri Gentu, the deputy abbot of Puning.

"The Panchan told us to love our religion and our country, which is a tenet of Lamaism. We are against any secessionist activities, including the Lhasa unrest and destructive activities while the Olympic torch relay was carried out overseas, which obviously betray the doctrine of lamaism," said Meri Gentu.

"To welcome Olympic tourists, the lamas of Puning have started to learn English and more money has been set aside to repair the Buddha figurines," said Wang.

More than 300,000 yuan (about 43,000 U.S. dollars) has been spent in repairing the figurines and refurbishing 16,000 sq m of the walls of the Puning Lamasery since the beginning of this year.

Also, all the signs inside the lamasery have been posted in Mandarin, English, Tibetan and Mongolian.

"The lamas here have been taught the basic etiquette for receiving overseas visitors," said Tunglaga. "As an ordinary Chinese citizen and also as a monk, I feel proud to see the Olympic Games take place on Chinese soil," he added.

Daily tourist visits to Puning total 500 or so nowadays, more than 300 at this time in a normal year. "I hope more tourists will come and visit Puning this year because of the Olympic Games," said Tunglaga.

The Mountain Resort and its Outlying Temples in Chengde were included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1994. But protection of the architecture began during the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

About 150 million yuan (about 21 million U.S. dollars) has been spent to repair and maintain the buildings and Buddha figurines.

Investment in preservation and renovation has been increasing in recent years, said Wang.

(Xinhua News Agency April 16, 2008)

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