A battle between Buddha and Mammon is shaping up in China after the managers of a renowned shrine announced plans for a multimillion-dollar stock market flotation.
Mount Putuo in Zhejiang Province 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 commercialization 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 750 million yuan [US$11.7 million] to bolster the site’s development,” Zhang Shaolei, of the Putuo Mountain Scenic Management Committee, told the state-run newspaper 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.
However, others say the two cannot be separated and that the local governments pushing the schemes are more keen on maximizing 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 the 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 Co, which listed domestically in 1997, saw its profits rise to 145 million 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.”
There have been repeated rumors that Shaolin Temple, the Chinese monastery renowned for its martial arts prowess and commercial nous, is seeking flotation. Officials there have denied the claims.