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Monks guide temple toward a new image

By An Baijie in Dengfeng, Henan (China Daily)

08:41, March 26, 2012

As the old saying goes, "Change comes from within."

It is a message that is being embraced at the Shaolin Temple, where resident monks are striving to improve the holy site's image after a storm of criticism last year.

Since February, at least 20 monks at China's most famous Buddhist monastery have been working as free guides for tourists.

Among them are graduates from Buddhist colleges, and each one has received two weeks of training, said Zheng Shumin, the temple's publicity director.

"It's an honor to introduce the temple's glorious history to visitors," Yan Xin, a monk in his 20s, said on March 17.

He had already led two groups that afternoon, during which he interpreted ancient poems engraved in stone tablets, and told stories about the many calligraphy and painting works.

"I practice martial arts every day and keep in good physical shape, so I don't feel tired," he said.

The free tour guide service was set up after a public relations crisis in December, when the temple was criticized by the National Tourism Association for its poor conditions and services.

The association said its inspectors had found disorderly parking facilities, an abundance of over-bearing souvenir sellers, as well as many people dressed like monks offering fortune-telling services or products.

After the criticism, People's Daily reported that police in Dengfeng had detained more than 63 people for violating tourism regulations, while four employees of the Shaolin Temple were dismissed. Ten tourist guides were also suspended.

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