China recently made global headlines when many of its restaurants sacked robot waiters. Apparently, the machines did not ‘handle’ customers well. The owners had to wake up to the reality that the robots lacked human touch and cannot replace human staff.

Despite this setback, China continues to dream big in the robotics space. For the past two days, Chinese social media sites Weibo and WeChat were filled with images of Xian’er, a chubby monk who lives in Longquan Temple in Beijing. What’s interesting is that Xian’er is a robot. Like any other monk, he adorns a yellow robe.

Xian’er, the robot monk.

Interestingly, he bears some semblance to Apple’s Siri and can engage in small talks — but with a tinge of spirituality. Xian’er is 60cm tall and was created by Master Xianfan, the chief of animation center at the temple.

“We are preparing for the second-generation robot research and development, which would be more intelligent. We do not intend to carry out batch production of robot monks,” Xianfan told People’s Daily.

Xian’er also has an animated avatar. The monks make short amusing video clips starring Xian’er to pass on Buddhist wisdom to people on social media sites.

Evidently, Buddhist monks in China are in sync with the emerging technologies. Several monks have taken to Weibo and WeChat to promote Buddhism to the young, tech-savvy populace.

According to a report by ECNS, venerated master Xuecheng, the abbot of the 1,500-year-old Longquan Monastery, has been sharing his teachings on China’s social media platforms. Xuecheng has more than 300,000 followers on his Weibo account.

He is not as active on Twitter, but his Twitter handle @xuecheng managed to garner 444 followers.

“Weibo and WeChat today are the main tools for people to communicate and interact with one another, leading to a whole new era of what many call We-media. It is both a challenge and an opportunity for us to promote Buddhism to better communicate with mainstream culture,” he told ECNS.

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