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Abbot named as kung fu inheritor

CHINA'S most controversial monk, Shi Yongxin, has been named "the representative inheritor of the Shaolin martial arts."

"The decision has been approved by China's State Council," said Chen Gaofeng, an official with the cultural bureau of central China's Henan Province, home of the Shaolin Temple.

"With the honor, Shi is expected to shoulder greater responsibilities and take more initiatives to better preserve Shaolin martial arts," he added.

Shi said he was pleased to see such a title given to a Shaolin monk rather than someone from outside the temple.

"Thanks to Shaolin monks, who have been doing kung fu over the past 1,500 years, the intangible art has been well preserved and handed down from generation to generation," he said. "The decision shows respect for the history and tradition."

The 44-year-old abbot, who had insisted that only those who are from Shaolin should get the honor, said if the inheritor was not Shaolin monk, the temple would become an empty shell.

Han Yuhong, a research fellow with the China Academy of Social Sciences, believed that Shi deserved the title.

Han, who is also a member of the assessment committee of the inheritors for intangible cultural heritage, said their standards in selecting the inheritor included "the candidate's contribution to Shaolin kung fu and his understanding and knowledge of it."

But the decision has been strongly opposed in some quarters.

"We have received many phone calls, most of which from religious and martial arts circles, voicing against giving Shi the honor," Chen said. "Some opposed it because they think they can do kung fu much better than Shi."

Chen said they had even got threatening calls, but he refused to give details.

The announcement has also encountered criticism on the Internet, with complaints ranging from the business-savvy abbot's disqualification in exercising kung fu to the authoritativeness of the selection process.

Shi earned the nickname the "CEO monk" after many people accused him of running Shaolin like a business.

Under his leadership, Shaolin, which has become a household name around the world, has developed business operations such as kung fu shows, film production and online sales.

"My major task is to better protect the Shaolin culture after being given the honor," Shi said. "The environment for the Shaolin kung fu is worsening, amid globalization and commercialization," he said.

"Protection is the single most important task now."


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