China probes top Buddhist leader for sexual assault

Abbot Xuecheng (centre) is one of the most prominent figures to face claims in China's #MeToo movement.
Abbot Xuecheng (centre) is one of the most prominent figures to face claims in China's #MeToo movement. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • The former head of China's government-run Buddhist association is under criminal investigation for alleged sexual assault, the country's top religious authority said yesterday.

Abbot Xuecheng, from Beijing's Longquan Monastery, is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a top advisory board. He is one of the most prominent figures to face accusations in China's growing #MeToo movement. He stepped down earlier this month after a report by fellow monks accused him of sexual and financial improprieties.

In the 95-page report that circulated online last month, two monks accused Abbot Xuecheng of sending explicit text messages to at least six women, threatening or cajoling them to have sex with him, claiming it was a part of their Buddhist studies. Four women gave in to the abbot's demands, the report said.

The National Religious Affairs Authority said it had confirmed that Abbot Xuecheng had sent "harassing messages", adding that the authorities had begun a criminal investigation into the report's charges.

Investigators had also uncovered evidence that the Longquan Monastery had violated national financial regulations.

Abbot Xuecheng, 51, stepped down at a meeting of the Buddhist Association of China earlier this month following the allegations.

The Weibo account of the abbot, a prominent personality in Chinese Buddhist life with a social media following of millions, has been silent since Aug 1, when he posted a statement rejecting the allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2018, with the headline China probes top Buddhist leader for sexual assault. Subscribe