Scores and perhaps hundreds of members of an outlawed cult known as the Church of Almighty God have been detained throughout the country in recent days as Beijing tries to stop believers from taking drastic action on what they believe to be the eve of the apocalypse, according to relatives of cult members and state media reports.
The sect, which preaches the second coming of a female Jesus, appears to have adapted an ancient Mayan prophecy that some people believe predicts the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012, and has been popularized by Hollywood movies such as “2012”.
“They are telling everyone that on Friday the sun will rise in the west and then disappear for three days and then there will be 72 days of terrible natural disasters starting from January 1, 2013,” one 24-year-old former cult member whose 50-year-old mother is still an adherent told the Financial Times. He asked not to be named because he feared retribution from the cult, which is also known as Lightning from the East.
“There are many examples of similar fringe religious movements in China, and this one has been around for a long time, but the difference now appears to be its move into politics and its calls to destroy the Communist Party,” said Tao Yong, a Canada-based historian and author who is an expert on the Taiping Rebellion. “In the past, I haven’t seen this particular group use this language of slaying the red dragon, and it is this sort of thing that hits a nerve for the Chinese government.”
According to the Dui Hua Human Rights Journal, the Church of Almighty God, also known as “Real God” church or “Eastern Lightning,” was founded by Zhao Weishan in Henan in the 1990s. The church also believes only believers will be saved and claims present-day China is an imperial family in decline.
In order to combat the unrest caused by the apocalypse, various news sources in China are refuting claims that the end of the world is near, from The Telegraph:
“It’s a normal, natural event,” Yang Guang, a Chinese astronomer, told Xinhua.
Speaking to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, Sun Xiaochun, a top professor from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: “The event will be as destructive as when we throw an old table calendar into the rubbish can at the end of the year.”
But Friday is just one of hundreds of dates for which the Apocalypse has been marked down. Despite nervousness in some corners of China, most people are unconvinced.
“Forget about the end of the world,” commentator Rong Xiaoqing instructed her readers in the Global Times. “Work a little toward saving the current one.”
CDT previously reported on a knife attack that injured 22 school children and the subsequent debate and comparison with the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. The Global Times has reported the school slasher was driven by the ‘doomsday’ belief and wanted to gain greater notoriety. NPR, citing Xinhua, has linked the apocalypse frenzy with the knife attack in Henan, from NPR:
Armed with a kitchen knife, the attacker in Henan province reportedly wounded 22 children and 1 adult. Xinhua reports that the suspected attacker, now arrested, was “strongly psychologically affected by rumors of the upcoming end of the world predicted by ancient prophecy.”
The victims of the Chinese attack are said to have suffered non-life-threatening injuries — many of them to their hands and ears. But the case has also sparked anger from Chinese citizens who say their state-run news media provided far more coverage of the U.S. attacks in Newtown than of the assault in Henan province.
Others who commented on the disparity noted that President Obama visited Newtown and showed both emotion and respect for the dead — something they say China’s leaders have not done.
According to The Guardian, despite these apocalypse rumors and unrest, some companies have tried to turn the end of the world into a business opportunity:
Some Chinese people have found less subversive ways of dealing with the prophesy. Companies have made waves on social media websites by offering doomsday holidays and bonuses. One farmer in Hebei province built seven buoyant steel-and-fibreglass “survival pods” in his garage. Each costs about £30,000, holds 14 people, and includes oxygen, food, water and safety belts. Another pod-maker in Zhejiang province has received 21 orders for his high-quality, custom-made arks. One sold for almost £500,000.
A farmer in the far-western Xinjiang Autonomous Region spent about £100,000 to build a barge-like ark with 60 tonnes of steel and 30 protective layers of fibre resin. “I invested all of my savings in the construction of this boat,” he told Chinese media. “When the time comes, everyone can take refuge in it.”
As CDT reported earlier, China’s Central Propaganda Department has issued directives to the media on reporting of end of the world prophecies.