Shaolin Temple Raises National Flag in High-Profile Ceremony, Signaling Beijing Control

August 29, 2018 Updated: August 29, 2018

Shaolin Temple, possibly the world’s most famous Chinese Buddhist monastery and the fabled birthplace of kung fu, announced in a flag-raising ceremony that it now belongs to the Communist Party (CCP).

The event on Aug. 27  marked the first time in the temple’s 1,500-year history that it formally declared a political stance. The temple is located atop one of the peaks of Mount Song, a sacred mountain, in Dengfeng County, Henan Province. It dates back to the year 495 and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

For years, the temple had been veering from its Buddhist origins, with commercial ventures to capitalize on its kung fu fame and Abbot Shi Yongxin serving as a representative for China’s rubber-stamp legislature. Today, the Shaolin Temple is a massive business empire, with a film and television company, a painting academy, a publishing house, and a performing troupe.

At 7 a.m., a dozen monks marched in carrying one red flag across their shoulders, entering the mountain gate of the temple to the applause of more than 100 spectators, including local CCP officials, the temple’s leading monks, and their foreign disciples.

Shaolin Temple monks at the flag-raising ceremony. (Screenshot via Shaolin Temple website)

In recent years, the atheist Communist Party has tightened its ideological grip over religious faiths. In March, the regime started a campaign to force all religious venues to include the national flag, the constitution, “socialist core values,” and traditional Chinese culture. The Chinese regime has called this campaign the “Four Enters.”

In hopes that complying with the campaign will ease tensions, many Islamic mosques have been raising the national flag since May.

To advance this campaign, the CCP’s United Front Work Department, an agency dedicated to influencing groups inside and outside China to support the party’s agenda, organized a religious affairs conference in July.

The party decided that all religious venues should raise the national flag at important events—such as religious festivals and traditional Chinese festivals—and also on National Day, a public holiday that commemorates the day the CCP took over China.

Shaolin Temple is the first Buddhist monastery to raise the national flag in such a high-profile ceremony, and Abbot Shi Yongxin has called for other monasteries to follow. Shi serves as vice president of the state-run Buddhist Association of China, an organization through which the Chinese regime monitors the activities of all Buddhist practitioners in the country.

News of the flag ceremony sparked Chinese netizens to criticize the temple for mixing religion and politics.

Laozhou, a user of Weibo, a social-media platform similar to Twitter, wrote: “Don’t believe in Buddha but Marxism. Don’t read the Buddhist scriptures but pray to the party. A bunch of shams.”

Another Weibo user, quoted by the South China Morning Post, wrote: “The Buddha and Marx have shaken hands. … Buddhism is meant to cultivate the mind, body and spirit—what has it got to do with politics? Haven’t the monks in the monastery renounced worldly living? I feel uncomfortable and just think that raising the national flag at the temple is simply not appropriate.” 

Dr. Chan Sze Chi, a senior lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University told Radio Free Asia in an Aug. 28 interview that Buddhism has a large number of followers in China, so the regime first forced the Shaolin Temple to adopt such a stance as a warning to other temples.

“To find an example from Buddhist monasteries, Shaolin Temple is the best one because it’s very famous and has kung fu monks as its symbol. The most ambitious Shaolin Temple kneeled down [raised the national flag], so the others will follow,” Chan said.