A legal showdown between a renowned Buddhist temple in central China and its administration agency snagged headlines as the two battle over ticket fare distribution of the tourist site, Xinhua reported on Sept 24.
On Wednesday, the Nanfang Metropolis Daily reported that a group of monks staged a small demonstration at the Shaolin Temple, Henan province on Saturday, demanding the whereabouts of money from ticket sales, which is managed by the administration committee of Songshan Shaolin Scenic Spot where the temple is located.
The demonstration came almost a year after the temple sued the committee for failing to give a portion of the ticket fares to the temple. According to a contract signed by both parties in late 2009, for each 100-yuan ($16.3) ticket sold, 30 yuan should be reserved for the temple.
The committee failed to give almost 50 million yuan worth of ticket money to the temple between January 2011 and October 2013, according to the lawsuit files. They demanded the money as well as a penalty of more than two million yuan.
Denying the requests, an official from the committee reportedly told the newspaper that "monks don't need that much money anyway," fueling a wave of debate on the Internet.
On microblog Sina Weibo, a post about the case has been forwarded more than 3,000 times, with many users unleashing a flurry of scathing comments.
"Why do officials need that much money anyway?" said one, mocking the official's comment.
"Why not just open the temple to the public free of charge? This way it would solve your quandary," read another.
Shi Yongxin, monastery head of the Shaolin Temple, told Xinhua their financial staff had taken pains to ask for the money from the committee multiple times, but were constantly ignored.
"They have violated the interests of the monks in Shaolin Temple, and I believe the court will give us justice," Shi said.
The high-profile monk, who has courted controversy himself for developing money-spinning business operations such as kung fu shows, said that the ticket money is a necessity in the temple's maintenance, the monks' daily expenses, and occasionally in Buddhist rituals. He said the committee's action has seriously affected their activities.
The Zhengzhou Intermediate People's Court has been trying to help the two sides reach reconciliation, but a disciple of Shi said that if reconciliation would work, they wouldn't have filed the lawsuit in the first place.
But the committee is firmly standing their ground, saying the ticket fare problem is largely a result of different understanding of the contract clauses.
A staff with the committee told Xinhua that the temple counts the ticket fares on the actual number of visitors, but a good number of the visitors tour the site with discounts or free of charge.
According to official statistics, from January 2011 to October 2013, at least 670,000 visitors toured the site free of charge, while 840,000 people bought half-priced tickets.
"If we are not getting money from these tourists, how do you expect us to give you money?" said the staff, who requested anonymity.
The lawsuit is currently proceeding, and the court will open a trial and announce a verdict should reconciliation efforts fail.
The administration committee of Songshan Shaolin Scenic Spot was formed in 1984, and has been designated in charge of the Shaolin Temple since. Over the years, the committee has been involved in several disputes with the temple over ticket fares. In 2011, the Dengfeng city government allocated 15 million yuan to the temple to ease tension.
In recent years, China has seen a host of cases that have strained the relationship between government agencies and Buddhist temples.
In June, the Xihu District in Nanchang city, Jiangxi, combined three small temples into a big one to make way for housing construction, forcing monks and nuns to live together.
In 2013, the Famen Temple in Shaanxi province refused visitors out of protest after the operating company of the temple built walls at the mountain gate without the temple's permission.