Zen and the art of moneymaking
Local officials make a packet from a religion of self-denial
Jun 27th 2015 | SANYA |
THE white steel lady overlooking the South China Sea has three heads, three bodies and toenails bigger than human heads. Guanyin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, stands atop a temple on a man-made islet, each of her heads facing a different way. Her public-relations staff call the six-year task of putting her there, in the resort town of Sanya on tropical Hainan island, “the number one statue-project in China”. The structure’s height, at 108 metres, was intended to be auspicious: Buddhists consider the number sacred.
Good fortune was certainly on the minds of local officials when they approved the project, in which the local government has a share. It was intended to be a money-spinner. It costs 60 yuan ($9.66) just to get in the lift that whisks visitors up to pray at those giant feet. That is on top of 126 yuan to enter the Nanshan Cultural Tourism Zone with its Auspicious Garden, Temple of 33 Guanyins and colourful Dharma Door of Non-Duality with its 94,000 portals. Guanyin is clearly not intended as a magnet for the faithful who have given up worldly possessions. Visitors are gouged without compassion, even having to pay for tassels “blessed” by souvenir salespeople. Gift stores are everywhere, selling knick-knacks such as prayer beads and Buddhist statuary. For visitors who want to sleep in the presence of Guanyin, a room at the site’s hotel can cost more than $280.