China: Shaolin Temple's Secret Training Camp

China: Shaolin Temple's Secret Training Camp

Behind the famous Shaolin Temple, far from tourist eyes, there is a secret village full of children. Thousands of them. Most will eventually enter the military or police force. But among them I find one young foreigner – only 14 years old – with much bigger plans.

He is the real life Chinese Harry Potter, living in a boarding school hidden deep in the sacred Songshan Mountains, training to become a Shaolin fighting monk, endowed with supernatural powers.

Many (older) Westerners first heard about Shaolin Monastery from the old television series called “Kung Fu”, in which Shaolin monk and martial arts expert David Carradine wanders the Old American West defending the helpless and beating up bad guys.

For the Chinese, Shaolin Temple and its legendary fighting monks have a similar mystique to cowboys for Americans – with a bit of supernatural thrown in. Shaolin Temple was founded in the 5th century CE and played a significant and complicated role in Chinese history. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times – burned during rebellions, ransacked by bandits, and abandoned by monks. It (and the monks inside it) suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution. In 2010 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site and tourism boomed. It now receives several million visitors a year.

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Category: Travel