No one could have anticipated that the poor and egalitarian China of Mao Zedong’s time would become a “Wild West” of commercialism, said Mary Bergstrom, founder of The Bergstrom Group, a marketing consultancy in Shanghai.
“There aren’t the established checks and balances in China that exist in other countries ,so people are more willing and able to test the boundaries of what is acceptable, especially if the end result of these tests is potential profit,” she said.
The Chinese government has strict controls on religion, with temples, churches and mosques run by state-controlled groups. Even so, religion is booming, along with tourism, giving some places a chance to cash in.
The ban on profiteering from religious activity is “just a reflection of the terrible reality of the over-commercialization in recent years of temples and other places,” the Southern Metropolis Daily said in an editorial Wednesday. “People who have been to famous religious places should be familiar with expensive ticket prices and donations for all kinds of things.”
Chinese entities from nature parks to religious sites are increasingly turning to commercial activities to pay expenses as government support dwindles in a society with little charitable giving. Temples face heavy costs to maintain centuries-old buildings and gardens.
But the State Administration for Religious Affairs says some local governments, businesses and individuals have built religious sites for profit, hired fake monks and tricked visitors into handing over money.
A notice on its website Monday, issued jointly with the police ministry and other authorities, warned of serious punishment for officials found to be involved in religious profiteering.
The new rules leave open when commercialism crosses the line to profiteering. No matter where the line might be, entrepreneurial officials and religious groups may not heed it.
An employee of the Wutai Scenic District Administration’s propaganda office confirmed Wednesday that the local government was planning to pursue a stock market listing but said he couldn’t give details.