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December 17, 2009

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Deal gives Shaolin income to local government, HK company

THE founders of Shaolin Temple could never have imagined how commercially attractive their Buddhist legacy would be, yet its kung fu masters now face a sizzling fight with local government to decide who will control millions of yuan of ticket income to the temple.

The 1,500-year-old temple topped media headlines yesterday after reports revealed that the government of Dengfeng City, hometown of Shaolin Temple in central China's Henan Province, has signed a deal to set up a joint venture with a Hong Kong travel company to "fully own" all the assets within Songshan Scenery Site, a tourist destination anchored by Shaolin Temple.

The joint venture, which aims to be listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2011, will take all the ticket revenues of the site, including those of Shaolin, which are estimated to earn the temple at least 150 million yuan (US$22 million) a year.

The joint venture, with a registered investment of 100 million yuan, is 51 percent owned by the National Travel Service (HK) Group. The Dengfeng government owns the rest, the Oriental Morning Post reported yesterday.

The deal, signed on October 21, was kept low-profile because the government and the Hong Kong company were not ready to officially announce their cooperation, Cui Shiying, the director of Dengfeng's publicity department, told the Shanghai newspaper.

Cooperation between the two sides is to last 40 years.

The joint venture controlled by the Hong Kong travel group is to set up its office in Shaolin's tourist center and is obliged to invest at least 800 million yuan in the next five years to develop new tourism projects, according to the newspaper.

The monks have been kept out of the deal, despite the fact that it will apparently affect the temple's operation. The huge ticket revenue - shared by Shaolin Temple and the local government until now - has been an important source of income for the temple.

Neither did the Dengfeng government invite the monks to a meeting held on December 9 to discuss the deal, the newspaper reported.

But the temple wants its voice heard.

Qian Daliang, a manager with the Shaolin Temple Company, told the newspaper that the government's conduct was not proper.

Qian said Shaolin is a legacy for the whole country, yet is now being treated as if it were a property of Dengfeng.

Shaolin Temple is famous for its influence on Chinese martial arts.

But under the leadership of its controversial abbot, the Buddhist legacy started to assume the characteristics of a profit-seeking enterprise.

The Shaolin company started a beverage factory using its "secret recipe," took over other temples and created overseas branches in the US and Hong Kong.


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