Beijing - Nezha, a famous figure in Chinese mythology, and his enemy-turned-friend the Monkey King, together with the almighty bodhisattva Guan Yin, or Goddess of Mercy, will no longer have to endure the undignified scramble of people trying to profit from their fame.
The Ministry of Culture (MOC) and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) have called time on the controversial, and sometimes vulgar, competition of some local authorities claiming to be the hometowns of mythological and historical heroes, and even sometimes villains.
The measure came after a host of news reports highlighting the disputes over the birthplaces of almost every renowned name in the country.
According to a circular jointly released by the MOC and the SACH, local tourism and cultural heritage authorities are urged to restrain their appetite for exploiting the fame of well-known figures. What's more, the commercial development of evildoers, no matter whether they are real, fictional or mythological, will be banned.
The circular also criticized some local governments for competing to name their places as the hometowns of an eminent person in an effort to profit from tourism.
The contest for hometown titles may appear to be about cultural heritage, but in fact it is really about economic interests, the circular said, adding some sensational commemorative campaigns launched by local governments actually harm cultural heritage.
China's economic development represents a huge potential tourism industry, and more and more tourists are interested in culture and not just natural scenery on their tours, so historical figures are now a hot tourism ticket, said Zhang Dahua, tourism bureau chief in Central China's Hubei province.
Just weeks prior to the announcement, Loufan county in North China's Shanxi province declared itself the hometown of Sun Wukong - many years after Lianyugang city in Jiangsu province claimed the same distinction. Loufan county now plans to build a 470-hectare tourist site.
Critics say it is ridiculous that a nonexistent figure is being used in such a way, adding that a profits-before-everything mentality is at the root of the problem.
In addition, Yanggu county in Shandong province has also been under fire for planning to build an adultery-themed tourist site utilizing Ximen Qing, a fictional character from the novel Golden Lotus who is usually regarded as a notorious libertine.
An attempt to profit from association with the ancient Lothario is also being made by Linqing county in the same province and Huizhou district of Huangshan city in East China's Anhui province. Both of them have proclaimed themselves the hometown of Ximen and each announced an ambitious investment plan to build sites celebrating his exploits.
"It is improper for local authorities to use real or fictional figures to attract attention," said Li Xiaocong, a history professor with Peking University.
"Some of the mythical figures with a positive image like Monkey King or Nezha can be culturally promoted in an appropriate manner, and some controllable commercial development is also feasible.
"However, the local governments should take their hands off the commercial promotion or sensation-making campaigns," he added.
A spokesman of the MOC said on Tuesday that the ministry would explain how the rules will be implemented in the near future.
Xinhua contributed to this story.
(China Daily 07/14/2010 page7)