Taoist destinations are soon to become publicly listed companies.

“Believers,” wrote the Buddhist Master Yancan, “will be visiting companies, not spiritual havens.” His anxiety was triggered by the move last week by a local government in China to list a sacred Buddhist site — a lucrative source of tourism revenue — on the stock exchange. Putuo shan, or Putuo mountain, in southern Zhejiang, is one of four sacred mountains for Chinese Buddhists. Local authorities are considering listing the mountain, under a tourism development company, on the Shanghai Stock Exchange by 2014, aiming to generate 750 million yuan (US$ 119 million) through an Initial Public Offering (IPO).

The Zhejiang initiative has generated a lot of attention — and caused a lot of heartburn — among Chinese Buddhists. It is, however, neither the first such attempt, nor, as Master Yancan, who is the vice-chairman of the Buddhist Association of central Hebei province, warned, is it likely to be the last. “It’s likely that in the near future, the Taoist destinations Taishan Mountain, Huashan Mountain and Wudang Mountain will all become publicly listed companies,” he wrote to the 1.5 million followers of his micro-blog. “It’s a moral tragedy.”

Buddhists who are worried by the moves can still retain some hope. Earlier such attempts, for various reasons, fell through. Efforts to list Jiuhua mountain in southern Anhui failed on two occasions, with the move now under review by the securities regulatory authority.

Moves by the famous Shaolin Temple to go public in 2009 generated huge controversy, subsequently triggering corruption allegations.

But economists warn the trend is likely to stay. “Only by getting the sites listed can local governments or even individuals receive revenue and profit from them,” wrote economist Ye Tan, describing such sites as “honey-pots” for local governments. “Religion has become a tourism asset,” she said, “and their sacredness has given way to economic profit.”