ZHENGZHOU -- China's most controversial monk, Shi Yongxin, has been named "the representative inheritor of the Shaolin martial arts" amid a new public debate.
Shaolin Temple Abbot Shi Yongxin poses with the certificate of a luxury cassock, which was given to him as a gift by a silk company, in Songshan, Henan province, June 7, 2009. [CFP]
"The decision has been approved by China's State Council," said Chen Gaofeng, an official with the cultural bureau of the central Henan Province, home of the Shaolin Temple.
"With the honor, Shi is expected to shoulder greater responsibilities and take more initiatives to better preserve Shaolin martial arts," he added.
Shi told Xinhua on Thursday that he was pleased to see such a title given to a Shaolin monk rather than someone from outside the temple.
"Thanks to Shaolin monks, who have been doing kungfu over the past 1,500 years, the intangible art has been well preserved and handed down from generation to generation," he said. "The decision shows respect for the history and tradition."
The 44-year-old abbot, who had insisted that only those who are from Shaolin should get the honor, said if the inheritor was not Shaolin monk, the temple would become an empty shell.
Han Yuhong, a research fellow with the China Academy of Social Sciences, believed that Shi deserved the title.
Han, who is also a member of the assessment committee of the inheritors for intangible cultural heritage, said their standards in selecting the inheritor included "the candidate's contribution to Shaolin kungfu and his understanding and knowledge of it."
But some have shown strong opposition at the decision.
"We have received many phone calls, most of which from religious and martial arts circles, voicing against giving Shi the honor," Chen said. "Some opposed it because they think they can do kungfu much better than Shi."
Chen said they had even got threatening calls, but he refused to give details.
The announcement has also encountered criticism on the Internet, with complaints ranging from the business-savvy abbot's disqualification in exercising kungfu to the authoritativeness of the selection process.
"I knew he is good at doing business," said an anonymous commenter on sohu.com. "But I do not know whether he is good at doing kungfu."
No words about Shi's kungfu level were mentioned in his official resume on the Internet.
Shi has earned the nickname the "CEO monk" after he officially took over as abbot in 1999, since many people have accused him of running Shaolin like a business.
Under his leadership, Shaolin, which has become a household name around the world, has developed business operations such as kungfu shows, film production and online sales.
"Shi's becoming the inheritor of Shaolin kungfu is conducive to the preservation of the heritage," said Han.
"Those martial arts masters who are better at kungfu are not necessarily better in protecting and developing the arts."
"My major task is to better protect the Shaolin culture after being given the honor," Shi said.
"The environment for the Shaolin kungfu is worsening, amid globalization and commercialization," he said. "Protection is the single most important task now."
Shi incurred public criticism earlier this week with news that the temple had accepted a gift of an ornate abbot's cassock embroidered with gold thread in the style of ancient imperial robes.
Shi was given the title of honorary professor by the sports institute at Henan University on Thursday. He said he would make his contribution to the development of the institute and the country's martial arts at the ceremony.
Last year, the temple came under the public spotlight after building "five-star restrooms" for tourists, equipped with uniformed cleaners and a foyer with an LCD television.
In 2006, Shi was accused of greed when he received a luxury four-wheel-drive vehicle from officials of Henan Province in recognition of his services to the local tourist industry.