24 April 2019
Shi Xuecheng (inset, left) was transferred by Chinese authorities to Fujian province to allow him to ‘reflect on his mistakes’. Another Buddhist monk Shi Yongxin (inset) has seen his past misconduct being brought up again recently. Photos: CNSA
Shi Xuecheng (inset, left) was transferred by Chinese authorities to Fujian province to allow him to ‘reflect on his mistakes’. Another Buddhist monk Shi Yongxin (inset) has seen his past misconduct being brought up again recently. Photos: CNSA

Beijing can’t escape blame for Buddhist monk scandals

China’s Buddhist sector has been engulfed by scandals lately.

The National Religious Affairs Administration (NRAA) confirmed recently that Shi Xuecheng, a former chairman of the Buddhist Association of China and a member of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), had been involved in suspected cases of sexual harassment, illegal building construction, illegal use of funds, etc.

Xuecheng has been transferred by the authorities to Fujian province to “reflect on his mistakes behind closed doors”, the NRAA said, suggesting that ‘Master Xuecheng’ is effectively under house arrest.

It is widely believed that the corrupt and once-influential Buddhist master is likely to stand trial, sooner or later, for the crimes he has committed.

And he isn’t the only well-known Buddhist master in the mainland who is now in the public spotlight.

Another renowned Buddhist monk, Shi Yongxin, abbot of the famous Shaolin Temple in Songshan, Henan, has recently become the focus of public attention, with his past misconduct being brought up again.

In 2015, Yongxin was caught in the firing line after the authorities had received tip-offs about his economic and personal misconduct, which allegedly included extortion by blackmail, embezzlement, decadence, extravagance, and swindling money, as well as sexual relations with some women.

However, despite the purported crimes, Yongxin managed to escape justice, at least for the time being, thanks to the protection provided by his government friends.

Yet three years on, there is speculation that Yongxin could see his luck run out.

Mindful of the negative implications on social stability from the chaos in the Buddhist sector, the NRAA, which has been placed under the command of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party since March this year, has been working aggressively in recent months to promote the so-called “four entrance”.

The “four entrance” refers to “the entrance of the national flag, the constitution, the socialist core values and the superb Chinese traditional classical Chinese culture into religious facilities and activities across the nation.”

Under “four entrance”, Buddhist and Taoist monasteries, Christian churches, as well as mosques across the mainland are ordered to fly the national flag at all times in order to promote patriotic traditions and the “sinicization of religions”.

Many “red monks” like Xuecheng and Yongxin had been eagerly toeing the party line and strictly enforcing the “four entrance” in the monasteries of which they were in charge right up until their recent downfall.

The problem is, what the authorities have failed to realize is that it is exactly its relentless political interference in religion that has seriously contaminated the Buddhist sector and given rise to corrupt Buddhist leaders like Xuecheng and Shiyongxin, who managed to rise to prominence largely because of their connections with the top brass and collusions with powerful officials.

As a matter of fact, the criminal saga of high-profile Buddhist leaders such as Xuecheng is only the tip of the iceberg, with a large number of other corrupt monks having gone under the public radar.

It is because as commercialization and politicalization have swept across the mainland Buddhist sector in recent years, corrupt practices among monks have basically run rife.

Worse still, as the communist party has been using religion as a tool to maintain social stability across the country, it has been aggressively pulling the strings behind the scene over the years, hence the massive invasion of malpractice and hidden rules that are commonplace in mainland politics into the Buddhist sector.

As far as Beijing is concerned, a crucial criterion for judging whether a monk is suitable for top jobs is always the degree of his political loyalty, rather than how well he can master the Buddhist philosophy or how popular he is among his congregations.

Under such an environment, in order to advance one’s path in Buddhism, the first and foremost thing one has to do is always to master the skills of how to be a loyal party official.

And in the course of doing so, it would probably involve the secret transfer of benefits to the top brass.

And once a Buddhist master is awarded a top job, he will always have to repay the favor of his Beijing bosses by eagerly falling into party line and helping the regime facilitate a political united front across the nation.

That probably explains why so many prestigious abbots and Buddhist priests in the mainland are sitting on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference or the National People’s Congress either at provincial or central levels.

The continued politicalization of the mainland Buddhist sector, under which the only things that count are political loyalty and powerful connections, has created a vicious circle and fueled all sorts of corrupt practices among monks.

The only way to restore tranquility to the nation’s Buddhist sector is for the authorities to stop interfering in religious affairs.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 1

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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