Chinese temples turning into tourist spots

IANS, Nov 19, 2010

Beijing, China -- China's religious sites like the Buddhist Lingyin Temple and the Shaolin Temple, the popular symbols of the Chinese kung fu, are not only attracting thousands of followers but also turning into tourist destinations.

Many of the China's 130,000 religious sites have already turned into tourist attractions, generating millions of yuan in revenue annually, the China Daily reported Friday.

Tours, including stays in temples, and religious activities like meditation and Buddhist lecturing, helped raise millions of yuan annually, said Professor Li Xiangping, head of the culture study centre at the East China Normal University.

The Lingyin Temple in China's eastern Hangzhou city had collected 70 million yuan ($10.5 million) from tourism in 2001. It may have surpassed 1 billion yuan now, Li said.

The rising number of tourists at religious places is giving more people a chance to learn about religion, said Yang Haiyun, who took to Buddhism in the 1980s. She says she visits at least two sacred Buddhist places annually.

'I enjoy staying in temples for several days from time to time, so I can study Buddhist scripture, meditate and learn from other pilgrims from all walks of life,' said Yang, who retired as a primary school teacher last year.

'A growing interest in religion among the Chinese has boosted the country's fledging religion-related tourism market over the past decade,' said Professor Yang Fenggang of the Purdue University, US.

'About 85 percent of the people in China hold some religious belief or practice some kind of religion,' said Yang, citing the result of a survey by the Beijing-based Horizon Research Consultancy Group.

Fortune telling and feng shui are popular among the Chinese, and the growth of Buddhism in China has been extraordinary, with about 18 percent of the 7,021 respondents in a survey claiming to be believers.

Going by that percentage, over 200 million people in China believe in Buddhism. A decade ago, the number was about 100 million, the study by the Buddhist Association of China said.

Tourist sites like the Wudang Mountain in China's Hubei province, which is rich in Tao culture, are also becoming popular.

Driven by profits and media exposure, cities where religious sites exist have begun to launch projects to attract tourists, said Li.