Today, however, temple officials seem more interested in building the Shaolin brand than in restoring its soul. Over the past decade Shi Yongxin, the 45-year-old abbot, has built an international business empire–including touring kung fu troupes, film and TV projects, an online store selling Shaolin-brand tea and soap–and franchised Shaolin temples abroad, including one planned in Australia that will be attached to a golf resort. Furthermore, many of the men manning the temple's numerous cash registers–men with shaved heads and wearing monks' robes–admit they're not monks but employees paid to look the part.
Over tea in his office at the temple, Yongxin calmly makes the case that all of these efforts further Buddhism.
As for some of the traditional styles, perhaps Baumol's cost disease is operating:
"There are no high kicks or acrobatics," he says. Such moves create vulnerable openings. "Shaolin kung fu is designed for combat, not to entertain audiences. It is hard to convince boys to spend many years learning something that won't make them wealthy or famous." He seems drained by the thought. "I worry that is how the traditional styles will be lost."