There is little as trendy in China as proclaiming oneself a Buddhist, writes Patti Waldmeir
Tuesday was Buddha’s birthday. Who knew? Certainly not most of the materialistic masses who trod the streets of Shanghai – that least spiritual of cities – on the big day. Even Hong Kong took it as a public holiday; Shanghai hardly noticed.
But not 100km away at Chongyuan Temple, on the shores of Lake Yangcheng, the young monk Miaoci was up by 4:30am, eager to begin celebrating the Buddhist equivalent of Christmas. He and 100 fellow monks were about halfway through their pre-dawn devotions when a group of men in suits and women in office attire hastily took up their places at the back of the temple.
They hardly fitted the stereotype of temple devotees in this part of China, many of whom are old, female and more rural than urban. Elderly ladies in traditional areas near here will sometimes hire a bus to take them off for a spot of temple tourism, hitting five or six local temples on the same day.
But these people were not members of a travelling “taitaituan”, or Buddhist wives’ group. They were staff of one of China’s largest insurance companies, on an office outing to celebrate the birth of baby Buddha. “The boss is a Buddhist,” says the monk Miaoci with a shrug. He points out that, these days, more and more of China’s rich and famous are taking to Buddhism.
Almost a third of the mainland’s wealthiest people now claim to be Buddhist, according to the Hurun Report, chronicler of all things rich and Chinese. And Global Times, controlled by the Communist party mouthpiece People’s Daily, said last month that there was nothing more trendy these days than proclaiming oneself a Buddhist – especially of the Tibetan variety. [Source]