Date
20 November 2017
Monks perform rituals over a sports car at a Hebei temple last month. It is one way for the monks to earn extra income. Photo: Sina.com
Monks perform rituals over a sports car at a Hebei temple last month. It is one way for the monks to earn extra income. Photo: Sina.com

Secrets behind untold wealth of Chinese temples

People go to the temple for peace of mind but some are exploiting religious rituals for money.

To be fair, some Buddhist temples exist purely for religious reasons. But sadly, many of them are being operated as cash cows.

In China, it is hard to find a temple that doesn’t charge entrance fees, which provides a steady income stream.

But temples have a lot more ways to make their visitors pay. Services including burning incense sticks, bell-ringing and divination sticks drawing and interpretation are some of them.

A set of joss sticks (three per set) may cost 200 yuan (US$32.50). But if devotees want to show their sincerity, monks would talk them into going for the best and the prices of those can go up to 10,000 yuan a set.

Followers may also be asked for donations and in some temples, the amounts are even preset.

On top of these recurring incomes, there are also big tickets.

Worshippers can sponsor a particular statue. To have the honor to serve your own buddha, the price tag could run up to 50 million yuan.

Not enough cash? Monks will bring worshippers to a room where there are credit card swiping machines, according to news site Voice of China.

The temple business is so profitable that some industry black sheep even hired fake monks to run the temples and ease the labor shortage.

Fake monks get basic salaries of about 10,000 yuan, plus commissions. A fake abbot could earn over one million yuan a year.

But they are worth the fat packages because these fake monks are typically great salesmen. They can quickly judge if the visitors are rich or poor and peddle the right products accordingly.

Easy money breeds greed. In some cases, temple operators became overly aggressive and diversified into other business.

For instance, in order to boost investment yield, an abbot in a Fujian temple decided to lend out the temple’s entire donation income to a loan shark firm owned by one of the temple’s followers.

Unfortunately, all the money was lost.

– contact the writer at [email protected]

JL

EJ Insight writer

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