A sordid affair of sex and blackmail ended the monastic career of Sichuan’s Shi Zhaojie, long honored by the CCP as a model “patriotic monk.”
by Ding Bohai
In China, you never know. Sexual scandals about pro-government religious figures may be real or they may be fabricated by the authorities when these CCP fellow travelers are regarded as no longer useful. In 2018, Venerable Xuecheng, the abbot of Beijing’s Longquan Temple and the president of the government-controlled China Buddhist Association had to resign following reports that he had sexually abused Buddhist nuns for years. He claimed he was innocent, and the full truth of the incident is still unknown.
Now, a new scandal is shaking the China Buddhist Association and the CCP itself. Sichuan’s Abbot Shi Zhaojie (also known as “Abbot Zhang” after his family name) was hailed as a leading light of the China Buddhist Association and the model of a patriotic monk loyal to the Party. It has been recently announced that he was defrocked on December 26, 2023, by the national China Buddhist Association. On January 19, 2024, he was also expelled from the Sichuan Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), of which he was a member.
In this case, Buddhist believers in Sichuan told “Bitter Winter” that they are persuaded that the charges against the abbot are real. What’s more, they claim that the scandal was known for years and the CCP and the China Buddhist Association had covered Shi as long as they could.
Shi Zhaojie became a monk in 1999 and received the full ordination in 2003. A brilliant student, he graduated at the Department of Religion and Buddhism at Renmin University. In 2005, Shi Zhaojie became the abbot of Shixiang Temple in Pujiang County, Chengdu Sichuan. He was also appointed in 2008 as abbot of the then half-ruined Lingshan Temple in Mianning, Sichuan and presided over its restoration and reconstruction. This was counted as a great achievement, as the reconstruction was part of the development of the Yihai-Lingshan Scenic Area, a project that cost more than $300 million. When the reconstructed temple was inaugurated, all the top local and some national CCP authorities attended the ceremony, which propelled Shi Zhaojie to national fame.
There were, however, rumors about Shi Zhaojie’s luxurious lifestyle and womanizing. They were dismissed by the China Buddhist Association authorities as the abbot was promoted and protected by the CCP.
Finally, a single incident put an end to Shi’s career. According to a decision rendered by the Mingshan District Court of Ya’an City, Sichuan, in 2020, while looking for mahogany furniture, the abbot ran into a TV sales program whose hostess was a beautiful woman called Cai. Not only did Shi buy furniture from Cai, but he also kept in touch with her and the two had sex in various hotels and motels. Unbeknownst to the abbot, Cai’s husband, whose name is Qian, was filming the sexual encounters between the monk and his wife. The couple later started blackmailing the abbot, and by the beginning of 2023 Shi had paid them more than US $400,000. As happens in many blackmail cases, Qiand and Cai kept promising this was the last payment they would request, only to resurface in a few weeks and ask for another one.
In the end, Shi didn’t know where to find more money to satisfy the greedy couple and had to call the police. They set up a trap and arrested Cai and Qian, but also reported the abbot to the CCP authorities. His attempts to claim that Cai had invented the stories were futile, as the police claimed they had found the incriminating videos, although the abbot still has followers claiming they were fabricated. However, Shi’ previous stories of womanizing make the court’s version believable.
The “patriotic monk” ended up ingloriously, being defrocked and stripped of his political appointments. That his antics were tolerated for so long evidences the corruption prevailing in the five authorized religions, which promote religious personnel based on their loyalty to the CCP rather than wisdom or saintly life.