Monks fight to protect name

MONKS of China’s famed Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Chinese kung fu, a unique combination of Buddhism and Chinese martial arts, have been more and more aware of safeguarding the temple’s reputation by legal means.  

“The Shaolin Temple is an important piece of cultural heritage for all human beings. To protect it, we must propose draft legislation to ensure appropriate action,” said the abbot of the Temple, whose religious name is Shi Yongxin. Located in Dengfeng County in central China’s Henan Province, the Shaolin Temple was built in the foothills of the sacred Songshan Mountain in 495AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386AD-534AD). 

Thirty-two years later, Bodhi Dharma, an Indian monk, began to teach in the temple and introduced an Indian form of exercise, which is regarded as the birth of the temple’s martial art tradition. Generations of Shaolin monks have devoted themselves to enriching and improving the tradition and have gradually developed it into a complex and sophisticated system of fighting, widely recognised as kung fu. 

Shaolin kung fu became more famous in modern China with the cinematic debut of the movie Shaolin Temple over 20 years ago, and its global influence has grown since the 1970s due to its use in a wide variety of foreign films featuring actors of Chinese origin, including Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. 

BATTLING COMMERCIALISM: Students practising in one of the Shaolin martial art schools mushroomed near Songshan in Henan, China.

Early this year, the 1,500-year-old Chinese kung fu made an application to the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) for listing as a “World Intangible Heritage.”  

“These days, Shaolin kung fu is misconstrued because most people barely scratch its surface and think that it is simply a martial art,” said Shi Yongxin, who is also a deputy of the National People’s Congress.  

“Our temple is applying to Unesco so that Chinese kung fu, not the martial arts, be listed as World Intangible Heritage because kung fu refers to Buddhist meditation and cultivation, which aims to improve one’s moral qualities,” he added. 

The local government is taking steps to place the temple and more than 600 stupas, which were built as tombs for monks during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Qing Dynasty (1368-1644) at the temple and on nearby Songshan Mountain, on the United Nation’s World Heritage list. 

The application process was initiated last year. Shi Yongxin said the Songshan Shaolin Temple comprised the existing temple buildings, the Forest of Stupas, a cemetery for Shaolin monks, and a pavilion commemorating Bodhi Dharma. “We should promote the listing of the Shaolin Temple as a whole,” he said.  

The temple is also involved in a battle to protect its name, involving the registration of “Shaolin” or “Shaolin Temple” as trademarks throughout the world. According to figures provided by the temple, 80 unauthorised kung fu schools in China have used the name Shaolin, and more than100 businesses, including those selling cars, beer, tires, furniture, and even wire, bear the Shaolin trademark, all without consulting the temple. – People’s Daily  

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