China’s powerful State Administration for Religious Affairs, the government regulatory body that oversees the country’s religious groups, today confirmed as true allegations that Venerable Xuecheng (学诚), China’s highest-ranking Buddhist monk, had sent obscene messages to female monastics,* according to Chinese media reports.
“Shi Xuecheng is suspected of violating Buddhist doctrines,” the State Administration for Religious Affairs said in an official notice. “The administration has asked the Buddhist Association of China to deal with the case in accordance with Buddhist doctrines and relevant regulations.” (Global Times)
The official confirmation comes just days after Ven. Xuecheng resigned from his leadership of the Buddhist Association of China, the country’s official supervisory organ for Buddhism, on 15 July, amid allegations that he sexually harassed several Buddhist nuns and coerced them into sexual relationships. He has also been accused of embezzling funds and overseeing the illegal construction of buildings at the historic Longquan Monastery in Beijing.
The notice from the State Administration for Religious Affairs also stated that construction activity was carried out at Longquan Monastery without an official license, and that a large amount of temple funds had been used in violation of financial management regulations. It added that further investigations by government departments, including the police, are ongoing.
Also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, president of the Buddhist Academy of China, and abbot of Longquan Monastery, Ven. Xuecheng is one of the most high-profile figures to be accused of sexual misconduct as the #MeToo movement has gained traction in China, after a slow start. Ven. Xuecheng is also the latest in a series of prominent Buddhist teachers around the world to be accused of sexual impropriety. Ven. Xuecheng has denied the allegations against him.
The accusations were leveled in a 95-page report sent to the government by two former female monastics, Xianjia (贤佳) and Xianqi (贤启), at Longquan Monastery. The document, which was leaked via social media in China on 31 July, alleges that Ven. Xuecheng sexually harassed multiple female monastics over a period of years, and attempted to persuade them that they could be “purified” through physical contact.
The report includes records of explicit text messages allegedly sent by Ven. Xuecheng to female monastics. According to the accusations detailed in the dossier, Ven. Xuecheng coerced or threatened at least six nuns into engaging in sexual relationships, of whom four allegedly gave in to his advances.
Ven. Xianjia and Ven. Xianqi formerly served as discipline inspectors at Longquan Monastery. Ven. Xianjia also worked as a secretary for Ven. Xuecheng. Neither has spoken publicly on the matter since.
In a statement published on the Chinese social media network Weibo on 1 August, Longquan Monastery refuted the accusations, stating that the two monastics had “forged materials, distorted facts, and spread false information,” with “illegal intentions to maliciously frame Abbot Xuecheng,” and to “mislead the public.” (Global Times, BBC, SupChina)
The Beijing-based Global Times newspaper today quoted an anonymous source, who it described as “an expert on religious issues,” as saying the scandal could damage the reputation of the temple and affect future donations from the public.
“Sexual scandals involving religious leaders happen in other countries, but rarely in China,” the source was quoted as saying. “The incident may affect Longquan Monastery’s overseas campaign, but would have a limited influence on promoting Chinese Buddhism overseas in the long run.” (Global Times)
The historic Longquan Monastery, located at the foot of the Phoenix Ridge mountain range on the western outskirts of Beijing, was founded in 957, during the Liao Dynasty (907–1125). Since the monastery’s renovation in 2005 after a period of decline, it has been active in establishing Chines Buddhism programs overseas, founding several overseas branches, including one in Utrecht in the Netherlands in 2015, one in Los Angeles in June 2016, and a branch in Botswana in July 2016.
There are an estimated 250 million Buddhists in China, although the number of practitioners is forecast to increase rapidly as growing numbers of young people, disillusioned with materialism and the pressures of the secular world, are turning to the country’s Buddhist temples and monasteries for spiritual answers and relief.
The #MeToo movement first found traction in China in December last year, and a growing number of women have since opened up about sexual abuse, in particular on university campuses. While China has no legal definition of sexual harassment or legislation on how to handle incidents in schools and workplaces, changing attitudes among the country’s younger generation have brought the situation under increasing public scrutiny.
The exposé also comes in the wake of accusations of impropriety by a number of Buddhist teachers and leaders in other countries, notably the Nyingma teachers Sogyal Rinpoche,** founder of the Rigpa international network of Buddhist centers, and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche,*** former head of the Canada-based Shambhala international Buddhist community. Ven. Seoljeong, the presiding executive of the Jogye Order of South Korea, the country’s largest Buddhist order, is also embroiled in a corruption scandal.****
* Top China Monk Resigns amid Probe into Allegations of Sexual Impropriety (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Sogyal Rinpoche Resigns from Rigpa (Buddhistdoor Global)
*** Ripples of Shambhala Sexual Abuse Scandal Continue to Spread amid New Allegations (Buddhistdoor Global)
**** Head Monk of South Korea’s Jogye Order Steps Down (Buddhistdoor Global)
Investigation confirms obscene behavior by Beijing abbot (China Daily)
Top Buddhist monk investigated for sexually harassing nuns (Global Times)
Top Chinese Buddhist monk Xuecheng faces police investigation after #MeToo sexual harassment claims upheld (South China Morning Post)
China’s highest-ranking Buddhist monk accused of sexually harassing nuns (Global Times)
High-ranking Chinese monk accused of sexually harassing nuns (BBC)
Abbot Of Beijing Longquan Temple Denies Sexual Abuse Allegations (SupChina)