Talk about your alternative investments: China's world-famous Shaolin monks are joining forces with the state-owned China Travel Service to set up a venture to promote travel to their 1,500-year-old monastery. The new company will raise as much as 1 billion yuan ($146.4 million) in a share listing, according to the Associated Press.Under the terms of the deal, China Travel Service will invest 100 million yuan ($14.6 million) for a 51% stake in a venture under the Shaolin brand name that will handle the sale of the temple's admission tickets, operate its cable car, cinemas, hotels and tourist bus services, the AP said.
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The plan is the handiwork of Shaolin's controversial Abbot Shi Yongxin, whom media reports say is seen as the temple's CEO, zealously protecting the group's "brand." He serves as an executive producer of the martial arts films filmed at the monastery, which gained fame in the West because of the cult classic TV show Kung Fu. Legend has it that five fugitive monks who fled the destruction of the Shaolin Temple in the 17th century were the seeds that helped spread martial arts throughout China.
Buddhism Succumbs to Commercialism
These days, not everyone is pleased that one of the cradles of Zen Buddhism has become one of China's top tourist locations.
"The joint venture and initial public offering, should either come off, will do little to improve the public image of Mr. Shi, the tubby abbot who has presided over the monastery in eastern China for a decade and who has been accused of allowing the wellspring of kung fu and Zen Buddhism to become crassly commercial," according to The Times of London.
Under Shi's leadership, the Shaolin Temple upgraded its facilities for tourists, adding what the AP described as "lavish visitor restrooms staffed with uniformed cleaners and TVs." The abbot insists he is only interested in protecting Shaolin's heritage, although he has allowed an "American Idol"-type kung fu competition and a bikini beauty pageant to be held on the site.
The timing may be right for the monks. Analysts have argued that China's $586 billion stimulus package is working better than the plan passed in the U.S. According to Dealogic, China has this year eclipsed America in capital raised from share listings, The Times said. Shares of Las Vegas Sands (LVS) recently floated in Hong Kong. Rusal, the Russian aluminum group, wants to sell stock there as well.
Still, the monks are unlikely to win many friends with this plan. Last month, a hacker posted a fake apology from Shi on the temple's Web site begging forgiveness for his over-commercialization of the monastery. Shi, though, is not planning to sue the joker.
There are deals that need to be done.
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