China / Society

Religious sites face capital temptation

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-07-06 06:55

BEIJING - Plans by local authorities to list famous Buddhist mountains on the country's equity markets are triggering a backlash regarding the commercialization of holy sites.

Local authorities in East China's Zhejiang province set up a local tourism development company in late May with intentions to integrate tourism services on Mount Putuo into the company.

Local media reported that at least one sponsoring institution has been appointed to provide counselling and ensure the accuracy of the company's statements before the local securities regulatory bureau verifies the listing.

"Putuo Mountain Tourism Development Co., Ltd. is now gearing up to be listed on the stock market," company manager Mao Jiantao said.

"A target has been set to raise around 750 million yuan ($118.12 million) by integrating the tourism resources of Putuo Mountain," Mao said.

Mount Putuo is one of four holy Buddhist mountains in China. Some of the mountains, as well as other holy Buddhist sites, have taken a business-oriented approach to developing local tourism.

Local authorities have planned to list companies affiliated with the Wutai and Jiuhua mountains in north China's Shanxi province and east China's Anhui province, respectively, on stock markets to boost local economies.

Mount Emei, another Buddhist holy site, went public on the Shenzhen stock exchange in the name of Emei Shan (Mount Emei) Tourism Co., Ltd. in 1997.

Chinese Buddhist and Taoist temples have long functioned as tourist sites and sources of revenue for local governments. These governments have a strong desire to make the temples more attractive and lucrative by listing them on the country's stock markets.

Famen Temple, located in northwest China's Shaanxi province, was expected to be listed in Hong Kong in 2013. The Baoji municipal government postponed the plan at the end of April, as construction on the second phase of the temple's expansion project had not yet begun.

The Shaolin Temple, a famous Buddhist temple in central China's Henan province, was also pushed to be listed on the stock market at the end of 2009 to attract more investment and tourists. The plan was aborted due to pressure from the Buddhist abbot Shi Yongxin and religious authorities.

Local officials have argued that listing tourism resources surrounding religious sites on stock exchanges will better protect local culture and promote tourism.

Dong Hongyun, the Communist Party of China (CPC) secretary of the city of Xinzhou in Shanxi, said all of the procedures for listing Mount Wutai have gone smoothly, adding that he expects the mountain to go public by 2013.

Dong said the listing is intended to expand local tourism at a low cost and turn the area's abundant cultural and tourism resources into wealth.

However, the arguments of local officials have failed to deter critics, who say that the excess commercialization of religious sites could tarnish their image.

"The unique attraction of Putuo Mountain lies in its religious culture, which is passed on as a common asset," said Cheng Huifang, a professor at the Zhejiang University of Technology.

Pure religious beliefs and culture should not be possessed by a handful of people or institutions that wish to make money, Cheng said.

"Reaping economic benefits in the name of culture is a common trick used by local governments to attract investment and shore up the performance of local officials," said Su Ruorong, a market observer from an information center for Chinese listed companies.

"But everything should have limits. A firewall should built between culture and religion," Su added.

Earlier last month, Liu Wei, a deputy department director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, said the administration opposes plans by some local governments to list temples on the stock market.

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