- Language Tips
When a man dies, his daughter has the right to inherit his property under current laws in China. But if the father is a monk, things do not seem to be as simple.
Xin Yingheng, whose monastic name is Shi Yong-xiu, became a monk after his divorce in 1979 and was later elected abbot of Lingzhao Temple in Yuxi city, Yunnan province.
In 2010, two young men killed him during a robbery. He was 63. After his death, it was discovered that he had more than 3 million yuan ($476,000) in his bank account.
His daughter, Zhang Yiyun, 36, came forward to claim the funds as the monk's only heir. But the temple declined her request, saying that monks' possessions come from the temple and therefore should return to it.
According to principles and usual practice in the Buddhist religious tradition, a monk has no relationship with his former family, including economic rights and duties, said Zhang Heyun, the temple's management committee director.
"He was in charge of all the public donations to our temple when he was abbot," Zhang said. "He didn't know how to save or transfer money in banks, so all donations were saved in his personal bank account.
"This money cannot be called an inheritance because it doesn't belong to him as an individual. It belongs to the temple."
Not having achieved any progress over the past two years, Zhang Yiyun filed a lawsuit against the temple in Yuxi Intermediate People's Court on Jan 16. In her statement, she said that because her father was still a citizen of this country, she had the right of inheritance.
"It's a civil case, so meditation out of court will be the first and main solution," said Wu Guozhong, head of the court's publicity department. He said no judgment was released on Tuesday. "We'll reach a conclusion in the next week," he said.
But the management committee of the temple said: "We haven't received any mediation from the court yet and will not accept any of it. The money belongs to the temple and will be used for renovation projects in the temple, as the abbot wanted."
The daughter could not be reached for comment.
The case has sparked heated discussion on the inheritance rights of religious people, because there are no specific articles to regulate such rights under the current laws in China.
"It's very hard for judges to distinguish money belonging to the temple from his private funds, and this will affect the final outcome of the case," said Ding Jinkun, a lawyer from DeBund Law Firm in Shanghai.
"Similar cases have ended up in mediation, and I think this one may not be an exception," he said, adding that he hopes the court will make a judgment.
He said no matter what the court decided, the public will still discuss the controversy because it had pointed out a loophole in the current laws.
He suggested that judicial authorities should treat a temple as a legal entity so that cases like this could have a smoother conclusion.
Contact the writers at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Cao Yin in Beijing contributed to this story.