Thursday, May 15, 2008

Extortion at Tiger Leaping Gorge

This is the story of an incident that occurred on a quick trip out from Lijiang, in Yunnan Province, to Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Our first, and unscheduled stop was at a small Buddhist temple overlooking what our driver referred to as ‘the First Bend in the River”. He said we could take photos of the Yangtze, which is called the Jinshui, or Golden Water, along this stretch and that it was “mianfeide” or free.

He was right, up to a point. My companions walked straight past the temple, against which numerous stone tablets (see below) were resting, and proceeded to view the bend in the river far below us. I was approached by a monk, however, and invited into the temple. I happily obliged, always interested in seeing another temple in China, and was promptly given a slip of paper, asked to place it between my hands held in front of me as if praying, and told to blow through it.

Not wanting to give offence by proclaiming the objections of a thorough-going materialist, I reluctantly performed the task, only to be guided by the monk into a small side room and ushered into a chair before a table. The monk immediately pushed my head down and held it in that position whilst he muttered a rapid incantation and then sat in a chair behind the desk. He then produced a large book and opened it to display the names of earlier victims of his mendacity and the amounts they had “donated” to the support of the temple. Most were large sums of hundreds of yuan; amounts of thousands of yuan were not infrequent. Next to the amounts were the signatures of the suckered.

Although no contract for payment of the blessings that had been bestowed by the monk existed, and I would have been within my rights to have enacted the Biblical “overturning of the tables”, a 100 yuan note was proffered with manifest displeasure, and received with haughty disapproval of the foreigner’s lack of generosity, and then the deal was entered in the ledger and signed for, and an everlasting record of the power of grasping monkhood left for the later intimidation of other luckless travellers.

I hastily left the Temple of Superstitious Extortion and rejoined my travelling companions who were enjoying the view without any idea of the price that had been paid. Asking where I had been, they then had to listen in disbelieving amusement to the sorry tale that was told.

Just down from the temple was another, smaller building in the vicinity of which lurked a trainee mendicant. I took photos, including one of the said youth, for which I happily and pleasurably refused to pay, to the youth’s disappointment.

Returning from the beautiful view, we were to discover that written proof of my torment was not to be confined to something so disposable as paper. The purpose for the tablets became clear to us: they were a record in stone of the names of the extorted! As we walked past, my name was being chiselled onto a "gongdepai" or Tablet of Merit and Virtue for posterity.

1 comment:

Turas said...

Comrade, you should have asked for a tax receipt! Glad to hear you guys are all okay, was wondering if you were in Sichuan. At least 2000 at the rally last night despite constant rain. Enjoy the rest of your trip.