BEIJING — Chinese police have opened an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against one of the country's best-known Buddhist monks whose case has highlighted the growth of the #MeToo movement in China.
A statement issued by the State Religious Affairs Administration on Thursday said police were investigating claims of sexual assault by Xuecheng. It said he also faces censure from the official government-backed Buddhist Association on suspicion of "violating Buddhist precepts."
Xuecheng has denied the claims but earlier this month resigned as head of the Buddhist Association.
Fellow monks accused him of harassing and demanding sexual favors from nuns at his monastery in the outskirts of northwestern Beijing, as well as embezzling funds. Their accusations, including testimony from alleged victims, were posted online, prompting a public outcry and unusual coverage by state media.
A small but increasing number of academics, civil society activists and one of China's best-known television hosts have been called out for inappropriate sexual behavior.
In addition to heading the Buddhist Association, Xuecheng was an influential political adviser to the central government. His monastery, Longquan, is popular with educated Chinese, including many who give up high-paying jobs to devote their lives to religious study.
China has roughly 250 million Buddhists whose religion has suffered varying degrees of repression under the officially atheist Communist government. That number is likely growing fast as some young Chinese turn increasingly spiritual and retreat to temples and monasteries.
Not all is so Zen-like, however. Some leading monks have been criticized for embracing China's rampant commercialism, among them Shi Yongxin, abbot of the Shaolin Temple famed for its fighting monks.
Shi was accused by subordinates in 2015 of keeping mistresses and embezzling monastery funds while he jet-setted around the world seeking sponsorship and real estate deals for the 1,500-year-old cradle of kung fu.
The religious affairs bureau statement said Xuecheng's temple is also under investigation for putting up buildings without construction permits. Authorities are also looking into the issue of "the whereabouts of a large amount of funds," it said.