By Tania Branigan –
Zhejiang’s Mount Putuo is latest sacred site to contemplate listing, prompting alarm over commercialisation of Chinese culture
A battle between Buddha and Mammon is shaping up in China after the managers of a renowned shrine announced plans for a multimillion-pound stock-market flotation.
Mount Putuo in Zhejiang is the latest of several religious sites whose administrators have gone down this route, prompting gloomy musings about moral decline and alarm at the ever greater commercialisation of Chinese culture.
Officials in charge of Mount Wutai in Shanxi and Mount Jiuhua in Anhui have similar plans, Chinese media reported.
“We are set to raise around 750m yuan [£75m] to bolster the site’s development,” Zhang Shaolei, of the Putuo Mountain Scenic Management Committee, told the state-run paper China Daily.
Supporters of the plans say only the bodies managing the areas – not the actual sites – would be sold off. “It is only the tourism business, not the temple. If a company wants to expand and be stronger, it must … get out of Zhoushan city, and in the future, it should get out of China, and go to international market,” the Putuo tourism administration company said in a statement.
But others say the two cannot be separated and that the local governments pushing the schemes are more keen on maximising income than protecting precious shrines.
Concerns were underlined last month when an official at China’s state administration for religious affairs warned against listing sacred sites on stock exchanges.
Liu Wei said such moves harmed the legal rights and image of the religious community and hurt the feelings of believers. He added that economic development should not cross moral lines.
An editorial in China Daily warned: “It requires an impossible leap of faith to believe that a company will seek to be listed just so it can raise money to better protect a religious site.”
The newspaper noted that the Emei Shan Tourism Company – which listed domestically in 1997 – saw its profits rise to 145m yuan last year thanks to admission and cable car fees at the shrine.
A commentary in the Global Times newspaper said: “It is morally unacceptable that one day when pilgrims travel all the way to these holy places, they are actually kneeling down before various listed corporations.”
Chen Ming, a researcher in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ religions department, said that after three decades of economic improvement the priority should be “to replant the barren [areas], in the spiritual world. We need to protect the spirit of the religion rather than let this last pure world be eroded by a flood”.
Others said there was no need to overreact. “I don’t think it will influence sincere Buddhists. It is also good to promote Buddhism,” wrote one microblog user.
There have been repeated rumours that Shaolin Temple, the Chinese monastery renowned for its martial arts prowess and commercial nous, is seeking flotation. Officials there have denied the claims. It has also been reported that Shaanxi officials have suspended plans to list Famen Temple on the Hong Kong stock exchange pending expansion.