China’s “Harmonious Campaign” and Buddhist IPOs

This week The Buddhist Association of China announced it was launching a “harmonious monasteries” campaign in Tibet. Here’s what the People’s Daily Online reported:

Tibetan Buddhism has always upheld harmony and peace, sought to create a graceful world and extended sympathy to all lives, said Jamyang Losang Jigme Tubdain Qoigyi Nyima, a living Buddha who is also vice president of the association.

As both Tibetan Buddhists and Chinese citizens, monks and nuns should benefit the country and the people, adhere to religious doctrines, promote Buddhism and serve followers, he said.

In the statement, the association’s Tibetan Buddhism division urged monks and nuns to behave as good citizens, protect the national unity, ethnic harmony and social stability, as well as avoid secessionist activities . . . The association also called on them to abide by the law.

Chinese police demonstrating a harmonious way of dealing with foreign pro-Tibet activists in Beijing, 2008. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

It’s not hard to read between the lines here. It’s just a attempt to persuade Tibetans to behave and not protest while China destroys their culture and engages in what Robert Thurman, Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, described some years ago as “ethnic cleansing by population transfer.”

According to Wikipedia, “The [Buddhist Association of China] shares jurisdiction over Buddhists in China with the State Administration for Religious Affairs, which regulates all recognized religions.” While technically the BCA is not state-run, its ties to the government are obvious. In addition to the guy with the long name mentioned above, the “11th Panchen Lama” is also a V.P. of the BCA. His name is Gyaincain Norbu and he is China’s pick for the position of the highest lama in Tibet after the Dalai Lama. The person recognized by Tibetan Buddhists as the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was detained by Chinese authorities shortly after his selection was announced in 1995 (he was six years old) and he hasn’t been seen since. Many Tibet/China watchers believe he is dead.

Here is a little flip side to the state-sponsored Buddhism scene in China: Liu Wei, an official with the State Administration of Religious Affairs, recently told Buddhist and Taoist temples that they have no right to go public and list shares on stock exchanges. According to Reuters, “The listing of companies linked to world famous Chinese heritage sites is not new in the country’s three-decade-old capital markets, but attempts to list at least one religious site have apparently crossed a line.”

Now we know why the Happy Buddha is so happy.

This is not aimed at just Buddhism and Taoism, but also the other religions (Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism) recognized by the Chinese government. Apparently a few of the more historical and popular religious sites are suspected of becoming overly commercial. This is one of the few times I agree with the Chinese government. Buddhism and commercialism should not mix.

A few years the commercialism charge was leveled at Shaolin Temple, probably the most famous Buddhist temple in the world. Over a million people visit Shaolin Temple in Henan province each year. The temple rakes in money from entrance fees, online sales of Shaolin memorabilia (fans, t-shirts, etc.), and its traveling performing troupes. A sub-industry has spouted up in the land around Shaolin where there are now more than 80 private kung fu schools that train more than 60,000 people to be like the monastery’s famous warrior-monks.

Shaolin Temple was founded in 495 CE. According to legend, the founder of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, Bodhidharma meditated for nine years in a nearby cave and then taught the monks at Shaolin meditation and an exercise called the Eighteen Arhat Hands. The monastery has long been associated with Chinese martial arts.

In the West. Shaolin Temple may be most famous for being the place where Kwai Chang Caine (AKA “Grasshopper”) was a monk as a young boy in the Kung Fu television series starring David Carradine, along with two great Asian character actors Keye Luke (blind Master Po) and Philip Ahn (Master Kan).

I can just picture a modern day Master Kan telling young Grasshopper, “Quickly as you can, sell the shares listed . . . When you can sell all the shares before the closure of the IPO, it will be time for you to leave.”


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