By Jiang Xueqing
The Dengfeng municipal government Thursday quashed a rumor that the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province would be acquired by a private company.
Monks in the temple and the public have expressed concern about the possible sale. The temple is generally considered the cradle of China's traditional martial art, kungfu.
There had been growing concern nationwide from reports claiming the temple would go public, which the government called "totally inaccurate."
The statement issued did say, however, that the local government is still in talks with China Travel Service Hong Kong to cooperatively develop Songshan Shaolin Scenic Spots.
According to the statement, the scope of cooperation won't include the Shaolin Temple or 16 cultural relic preservation sites in three popular scenic spots – namely Shaolin, Songyang and Zhongyue. The cooperation would strictly follow the related laws and regulations of China, the statement said.
It was reported Wednesday by the Oriental Morning Post that the Dengfeng government and China Travel Service Hong Kong would form a new company to develop tourism and related business, including real estate and cultural industry projects, but the Shaolin Temple isn't part of those plans.
"To combine the Songshan Shaolin Scenic Spots and China Travel Service Hong Kong Limited will put each other's resources and advantages together," said Lǚ Wei, director of the Department of Culture Industry with the Dengfeng municipal government.
"The new company will bring forward a multi-win situation. Both the Shaolin Temple and the culture tourism industry in Dengfeng will become more famous worldwide, which will possibly increase the income of the local government and the temple," he said.
The new company will allocate 100 million yuan as registered capital and plan to go public in 2011, according to the minutes of a Dengfeng government meeting released December 10 and obtained by the Global Times.
Contradicting the newly released statement, the minutes said that the government should take care of asset allocation during the process of cooperation with China Travel Service Hong Kong Limited. These assets include entrance tickets, electric vehicles, the tourist center, parking lots, hotels and others in the three popular scenic spots in Songshan.
According to an unsigned framework agreement on cooperation dated October 21 and obtained by the Global Times, China Travel Service Hong Kong will have 51 percent of the share and is expected to invest 800 million to 1 billion yuan in the next 3-5 years starting from 2010, while the Dengfeng municipal government will have a 49 percent stake by investing 60 million yuan and providing property.
"As the agreement is still under negotiation, it's inconvenient to talk about cooperation details like what each party's percentage of investment is and how to divide the returns," Lv said in a phone interview.
He told the Global Times that the Shaolin Temple will get part of the revenue from ticket sales, but he refused to disclose the percentage.
Although the local government is enthusiastic about the upcoming cooperation, people from the Shaolin Temple, however, raised concerns of whether the project will destroy the current religious habitat and atmosphere of the Songshan Shaolin Scenic Spots and damage the reputation of the temple.
"We're afraid that the Shaolin Temple will be tied up with a business after the new company goes public," said Qian Daliang, head of the Intellectual Property and Intangible Assets Management Center of Shaolin Temple, during an interview Wednesday. "The potential threat is huge. We are worried that, in the end, it's the temple that's going to take the historical responsibility for such a decision."
The temple will receive 30 percent of the entrance-ticket revenue as before, according to Qian. He said they were not informed about the agreement until a few days ago.
A source from the local government who asked to remain anonymous said that the temple had known this plan was coming for a long time, but they only jumped in at the last minute because they were worried that their share of the interest would not be assured.
According to a close friend of Shi Yongxin who didn't want to give his name, the State Administration for Religious Affairs said that the project is not in conformity with relevant laws and regulations. A staff member of the State Administration for Religious Affairs said they were too busy to give an interview, and Shi Yongxin also declined to be interviewed.
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