ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
What's more, its temples are beginning to play an economic role in the country, as NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Fujian Province, in the south of China.
U: This solemn, historical moment will be here soon.
LOUISA LIM, Host:
Four years ago, amid fanfare, China hosted the first World Buddhist Forum. Never before had this officially atheist country sponsored such a large religious conference.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
LIM: When it comes to charity, Buddhist temples have led the way, as the Venerable Zhengxin from Nanputuo Temple in Xiamen explains.
V: (Through Translator) In 1994, we set up the country's first Buddhist philanthropic foundation. And this motivated other Buddhist organizations to take part in charitable work.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)
LIM: They're people like office worker Mr. Lei.
LIM: (Foreign language spoken)
LIM: Another fund administrator, the Venerable Putuo, says its projects are chosen by the local government.
V: (Through Translator) Each project requires a survey, and we depend on the State Administration for Religious Affairs for that. They'll look at how much a place is suffering or the cost of medical equipmeny, or whatever. Each project we've done in our 16-year history has been inextricably linked with the local government.
LIM: Nanputuo Temple's foundation gives this hospital about $3,000 a year. It's not much, but hospital director Chen Xichen says it makes a huge difference to patients.
LIM: (Through Translator) The foundation gave us money, electric fans and cookers, clothes, closets and beds. Sometimes I ask our patients what else they need, but they can never think of anything else.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD AND CONVERSATIONS)
LIM: The tourists hand over ticket fees of nearly $900,000 a year. Some of that revenue goes to the local government, according to Li Xiangping, from East China Normal University's Institute of Religion and Social Development.
P: (Through Translator) The development of the Buddhist economy is often interconnected with that of the local government economy, as they're driving each other. The two sides may cooperate over the planning of tourist destinations and tourism revenues. This also helps build Buddhism's image.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)
LIM: In the past, money matters have caused disputes in these corridors where today, Buddhist music is piped. Back in the '90s, disagreement over the management of Nanputuo Temple restaurant culminated in a stand-off. Militant monks held government officials hostage overnight, leading to a raid on the temple by special forces. But today, the temple's relationship with the local government is one which, in economic terms, is mutually beneficial.
SIEGEL: to counterbalance the explosion of Christianity in China.
P: (Through Translator) The government wants Buddhism to develop. I think it believes Buddhism is more suitable for Chinese society.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LIM: Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.
SIEGEL: There's a photo gallery of Chinese Buddhist temples at npr.org. And tomorrow on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we turn to the remarkable rebirth of folk religion in China.
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