Mon, Nov 22, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Business as usual at China's Shaolin Temple

In a remote part of Henan the Shaolin myth is being exploited on an industrial scale

AFP , SHAOLIN TEMPLE, CHINA

In conformity with the mercantilist spirit that has not settled over Shaolin, most of the students hope the skills can assist them in their future careers.

"Kung fu helps your body become stronger and lifts your spirit," said Kong Lingfang, a 21-year-old student. "You can use it in many kinds of jobs, even in a bank, but I personally want to become a bodyguard."

The surroundings are Spartan, with Kong in charge of 18 younger students squeezed into a tiny dormitory.

"It's my responsibility that they study well, practice well, eat well," he said. "I'm not allowed to hit the boys, but I can punish them by ordering them to do push-ups."

Push-ups do not deter 15-year-old Tao Saowei as he tries to harness the traditions of Shaolin to his dreams of a lucrative career.

"You can become a coach or go abroad to perform," he said as he was putting on gloves for an upcoming lesson in Chinese-style boxing.

Tao's father paid the equivalent of one year's tuition at the school, a huge amount for most Chinese.

None of the students seems to think it is excessive, even if it entails submitting themselves to a severe regimen of training and exertion from dawn till dusk, and frequently even later than that.

But if they think they are learning authentic Shaolin kung fu, they may be fooling themselves -- not one of the schools is run by the monastery itself.

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