China's Shaolin Temple sues county tourism office, says owed $10.32 million in ticket sales

Shaolin Temple abbot Shi Yongxin. The famed Chinese temple is making headlines again, this time for suing the local tourism office for nearly 50 million yuan (S$10.32 million) in owed ticket receipts. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Shaolin Temple abbot Shi Yongxin. The famed Chinese temple is making headlines again, this time for suing the local tourism office for nearly 50 million yuan (S$10.32 million) in owed ticket receipts. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA - China's famed Shaolin Temple is making headlines again, this time for suing the local tourism office for nearly 50 million yuan (S$10.32 million) in owed ticket receipts.

Built over 1,500 years ago on Songshan mountain in Dengfeng county, in the central province of Henan, Shaolin is China's best-known Buddhist monastery and the birthplace of gongfu.

In December 2009, the temple's abbot Shi Yongxin signed a deal with Dengfeng county's Songshan scenic area management committee to manage its ticketing income, Chinese media reported. Under the deal, Shaolin was to get 30 yuan for each 100-yuan admission ticket to its compound sold by the committee. The latter was obliged to pay the temple its cut every month and was also responsible for costs.

However, the temple, which sees over 1.5 million visitors each year, claims that it did not receive full payment from the committee between November 2011 and October 2013, China News Service reported Friday. The temple says the arrears amounted to a total of 49.7 million yuan, plus a late-payment penalty of 2.32 million yuan, according to the report.

Shaolin filed a civil lawsuit against the Songshan scenic area management committee with the intermediate court in Henan's capital city of Zhengzhou last November, the Southern Metropolis Daily said.

In its defence, the Songshan committee says even though the ticket costs 100 yuan, certain visitors are charged half price, or not at all.

"Some visitors enter the temple for free. In these cases we don't get a single penny. How do we give money to the temple?" a member of the committee, who was not named, was quoted by the reports as saying.

The court has yet to set a date to hear the case.

This is not the first time the two sides have fallen out over money.

Between 2005 and 2010, Shaolin complained several times to the Zhengzhou government of being owed admission revenue by the Songshan committee, said Southern Metropolis Daily. The dispute was resolved only when the Dengfeng county government offered to pay the temple 15 million yuan.

Shaolin has in recent years come under public scrutiny over what is seen as "commercialisation" of the religious establishment by abbot Shi.

Shi, known as the "CEO of Shaolin" since taking over the temple in 1999, has developed commercial ventures such as gongfu shows, film production and online merchandise sales.