China / Society

Online jeers as Crazy English guru joins Shaolin Temple

( Updated: 2014-07-30 10:52

Online jeers as Crazy English guru joins Shaolin Temple

Li Yang poses for a photo with Shi Yongxin, the abbot of Shaolin Temple, on July 26, 2014. [Photo from Weibo account of Li Yang]

The celebrity founder of a shouting-based method of learning English has heard an earful from 5 million of China's netizens after converting to Buddhism at the legendary Shaolin Temple.

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Li Yang, who became a household name in the 1990s for his unorthodox "Crazy English" language program, was admitted to the temple on July 26 as a lay Buddhist, which means he will study religious doctrine without denouncing his worldly possessions.

Within hours of Li posting pictures on Tuesday of his earlier induction ceremony, China's netizens were out in force. By 5 pm on July 29, the thread "Li Yang becomes a Buddhist" had more than 5 million views on Sina Weibo, China's largest social media platform.

The nearly 7,000 comments on the topic were a blend of celebrity obsession and outright skepticism. As one Internet user put it: "It's so crazy! Luckily I am not obsessed with English so much. Nevertheless, do [Li] really see through the vanity of life or is this a public stunt?"

Once labeled "the Godfather of Oral-English Teaching in China", Li was quoted as saying he had taught English language skills and self-confidence to millions of Chinese. At the height of his popularity, his lectures were attended by tens of thousands of people and a single event was reported to bring in an estimated one million yuan.

Li later fell from public grace, however, when his American ex-wife won a high-profile domestic violence case against him in 2013. He was ordered to pay his ex-wife 50,000 yuan (US$7,960) in compensation for psychological traumas that was ruled to be the result of his violence towards her.

Although Li apologized for beating his wife after a wave of condemnation online, the marriage broke up with the custody of their three children awarded to Li's wife, Kim Lee, who went on to become a woman's rights advocate.

China's Internet users left little of the controversial celebrity's history uncovered in their comments.

A netizen who goes by the online name Shanghai Fatty Old Tian commented: "Maybe next time I go to Shaolin Temple, I will be greeted by English-speaking monk saying 'Welcome, please put money in the box'."

An Internet user from Italy, Crazy Leo Apple, posted: "Teacher Li Yang has been a controversial person, partly due to his excellent English skill and partly due to his frustrating marriage. Anyway, no one is perfect. Being kind is enough."

Another netizen wrote, "Temple is a quite place. Your yelling and speech skills will be useless."

Still, Li is among many other celebrities who have developed a belief in Buddhism, such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Leslie Cheung.

And not all netizens who commented on the conversion had Li and his rollercoaster past in mind.

As one young student put it, "I am going to tell my mom that's how it ends for a man who is obsessed with learning English."


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