By Tom Bannister
Real monks take your money and put it towards nice religious things: maybe a reassuringly shiny statue or an expensive stained glass window. Fake monks take your money and put it towards… well, it’s not usually clear, but their intentions are almost certainly irreligious and evil. Now Chinese authorities, demonstrating a commitment to ‘proper’ religion that only an officially atheist state can, have continued their campaign against fake monks by closing unlicensed temples in one of the country’s most popular religious sites.
Xinhua reports that six ‘fake monks’ were arrested on Friday on Mount Wutai, in Shanxi. The six were employed by two temples to collect extortionate sums of money from tourists. Both temples have been shut down.The Mount Wutai administration bureau said that: “We will continue to regulate temples and shops on Mount Wutai to display a good image to tourists“.
Mount Wutai is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China and a very popular destination. Its religious infrastructure – 53 temples in total – was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009 and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Fake monks have a long history of causing problems for Chinese authorities as the widespread commercialisation of religious facilities creates opportunities for those with little firm religious credentials to profit. The question of who is, and who is not, a purveyor of religion, and therefore legitimately allowed these opportunities, may be an open-ended question for many, but for the Chinese authorities it has clear and, some would say, rather limited, answers. The state strictly regulates religious activities and last year re-invigorated their campaign to crack down on unlicensed religious sites and their financial activities.
But religion in China is a growth area and monks everywhere should rest assured that there will plenty more opportunities to scam (for more on this subject, read Tony Blair, a noted expert on both religion and scamming).