IPO on Buddhist mountain makes business of religion

by Li Yao, China Daily, Aug 23, 2012

Putuo Mountain, China -- The Buddhist Association of China is strongly opposed to a plan for a public offering by a tourism development company that provides services around a sacred Buddhist mountain in East China.

Master Puzheng, the association's spokesman, told China Daily on Tuesday that the plan to launch the company on the stock market is trying to turn religious appeal into business and will undermine the development of Buddhism in the long run.

Putuo Mountain Tourism Development, a State-owned company that operates tourist facilities around Putuo Mountain in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, unveiled its intention for an IPO in June to promote tourism and Buddhist culture.

IPO on Buddhist mountain makes business of religion

A giant Kwan-yin statue at Zhejiang province's Putuo Mountain, one of four holy Buddhist mountains in China. Provided to China Daily

The announcement soon caused a public outcry over the reputation of the sacred mountain and the overt commercialization of Buddhism.

Ding Hongbin, deputy director of Putuo Mountain's management committee, said the IPO plan does not involve any Buddhist entity and has no clear timetable, according to a report on Tuesday by Oriental Morning Post, a newspaper in Shanghai.

Ding said the plan had nothing to do with Buddhism and the company only used the "Putuo Mountain" brand to seek expansion. The five underling entities considering an IPO include cable cars, bus and ferry providers, an incense manufacturer and a tourist service center.

Putuo Mountain received 3.15 million visitors from January to June, generating revenue of about 2 billion yuan ($315 million), according to official figures.

Master Puzheng said he has never heard of similar plans involving famous Buddhist sites abroad.

For example, Master Puzheng said, the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan, attracts many visitors, especially during the cherry blossom season. Yet it exists mainly as a place of worship for Buddhist believers and for travelers to rest, and it has not mentioned any intention of going public.

Nor has the Bulguksa Temple in South Korea. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995, but the ticket price is only about 10 yuan, he said.

Master Xuecheng, vice-president of the Buddhist association, said at a press conference in Shanghai on June 5 that the IPO plan hurt the interests of Buddhist circles, the sentiments of followers and the image of Buddhism.

IPO on Buddhist mountain makes business of religion

Master Xuecheng's views are representative of the Buddhist community in China, Master Puzheng said on Tuesday. He said Buddhist circles were not consulted when making such decisions like the IPO case.

Liu Yuanchun from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said authorities and developers have seen only short-term interests, but tourism appeal based on religious heritage is a delicate resource.

If the IPO plan of Putuo Mountain succeeds, the ticket price is very likely to increase, he said. A ticket now costs 160 yuan.

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