Today's "Shaolin" merely stage shows
by James MacDonald, San Francisco, Aug 15, 2005
I was disappointed to read your article concerning the recent visit of Shaolin 'monks' to Taiwan. It seems that the propaganda of the PRC is accepted uncritically everywhere. One hand continues to murder, torture and oppress Buddhists in the TAR and Inner Mongolia and the other hand offers the world the miraculously preserved Shaolin Temple.
The PRC viciously suppresses any popular religious movement for fear of its politicization, yet allows the Shaolin Temple, an ancient hotbed of armed dissent, to survive unmolested...I'm sorry but this is absurd.
In fact Shaolin was obliterated during the Cultural Revolution. Martial arts teachers in particular were singled out and executed. Only a handful of detainees remained, and they were understandably reluctant to share their secrets with their captors.
The result is that todays 'monks' know less than 1% of the martial knowledge of their predecessors.
Recently, the PRC has asked diaspora Chinese with genuine knowledge of Shaolin martial arts to return to China to help rebuild the temple, but again this is a lie since the actual recipient of such knowledge will be the Chinese military. The performers in the Shaolin roadshow are simply state acrobats in orange costumes.
Their connection with Buddhism is even more tenuous. If a young 'monk' changes out of his costume after a performance and goes to a bar with his girlfriend, is he really a monk? If his knowledge of Buddhism comes entirely from a flimsy textbook prepared by the Communist authorities, is he really qualified to teach the Dharma?
Shaolin is now just a franchise and a copyrighted brand, and there is nothing wrong with this development if it encourages people to take an interest in Buddhism...as long as they understand that todays Shaolin is a counterfeit.