Kung fu (in)fighting rocks ancient Shaolin Monastery

Story highlights

Shi Yongxin is known for promoting the Shaolin brand and turning it to multimillion-dollar business

He is accused of being an embezzler and womanizer with illegitimate children -- something he denies

A self-identified Shaolin insider has posted a series of explosive allegations on Chinese social media

Beijing CNN  — 

The world’s most famous kung fu temple is fighting back amid a growing list of scandalous accusations against its controversial abbot.

Established more than 1,500 years ago and home to some 3,000 monks, the Shaolin Monastery in central China is renowned for its age-old tradition of practicing both Zen Buddhism and martial arts.

Since last weekend, however, a self-identified Shaolin insider has posted a series of explosive allegations on Chinese social media, depicting Abbot Shi Yongxin as an embezzler and womanizer with illegitimate children.

Calling himself Shi Zhengyi – or “interpreting justice” in Chinese – the accuser included documents dating back to the late 1980s purportedly showing Shi Yongxin being kicked out of Shaolin following theft and other accusations from his own master. 

Among other evidence posted online was a birth certificate for one of the abbot’s supposed illegitimate children with a mistress, as well as photos of the mother and the child.

The posts have gone viral, attracting the attention of both Internet users and state media thanks to Shi Yongxin’s national celebrity.

‘Malicious insults’

Warrior monks of Shaolin practice Kung Fu skills during a training session at the temple in 2005.

In an angry statement posted on its official website Sunday, the Shaolin Monastery denied all allegations, calling them “fabricated and malicious insults and libel” damaging not only the abbot’s reputation but also the entire temple’s image.

The monastery said it had filed a police report against Shi Zhengyi. CNN’s repeated phone calls to police in Dengfeng city in Henan province, where the temple is located, went unanswered Wednesday.

Attempts to reach Shi Zhengyi, who said he had sent all the information in his posts to the authorities, were also unsuccessful.

Controversial leader

Controversy has never been far from Shi Yongxin since he became the Shaolin abbot in 1999.

Politically savvy and media friendly, he is often seen globetrotting with an iPhone in hand, and busy meeting world leaders and industry titans – from Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Shi Yongxin, Abbot of the Shaolin Temple, meets visitors on August 24, 2006 in Dengfeng of Henan Province, China.

But unflattering headlines have dogged the Buddhist monk for years – from reports of a luxury car and a $25,000 robe given to him by local officials, to rumors about his hiring prostitutes and keeping mistresses.

His seemingly singular focus on promoting the Shaolin brand and turning it to multimillion-dollar business, though, has attracted the fiercest criticism.

After writing a $3 million check to an Australian town earlier this year to build a Shaolin branch there, Shi Yongxin defended himself to state-run Xinhua news agency.

“If China can import Disney resorts, why can’t other countries import the Shaolin Monastery?” he said in March. “Cultural promotion is a very dignified undertaking.”

Corruption fight

Shi Yongxin (C) Abbot of Shaolin Temple, arrives at The Great Hall Of The People to attend the opening session of the annual National People's Congress at Great Hall of the People on March 5, 2013 in Beijing.

The latest accusations against Shi Yongxin, however, have portrayed him as a corrupt monk at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to eradicate corruption, long a lightning rod for mass discontent in this country of 1.3 billion people.

With a stated goal of targeting both “tigers and flies” – high- and low-ranking officials – Xi’s massive campaign has led to thousands of arrests and convictions on graft charges.

As a national legislator in China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Shi Yongxin can be considered an official. And the accuser titled his original post “who is to inspect this big tiger, the abbot of Shaolin Monastery.” 

Amid all the media frenzy and online chatter, the abbot appears to have found his inner peace.

“I haven’t done anything guilty, so I’m not afraid of devils knocking on the door,” he told local reporters Monday, quoting an old Chinese saying to emphasize his clear conscience.

CNN’s Shen Lu in Beijing contributed to this report.