China rounds up members of doomsday cult

December 17, 2012

Police across China are rounding up members of a quasi-Christian doomsday cult who have been preaching the end of the world and urging people to launch a “decisive battle” to slay the “big red dragon” of the Communist Party.

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.

“They’ve also told all members to withdraw their money from the bank in preparation for the end of the world,” he said.

The Communist Party is particularly sensitive to the rise of any religious or quasi-religious organization, thanks to a long history in China of uprisings based on mystical beliefs.

In the mid-19th century the quasi-Christian Taiping Rebellion, led by a man who believed himself to be the younger brother of Jesus, laid waste to half of China and almost brought down the Qing Empire.

At the dawn of the 20th century, the members of the anti-Christian “Boxer Uprising,” who believed their faith made them impervious to bullets, laid siege to the Foreign Legation quarter —home to foreign embassies— in Beijing and also nearly toppled the tottering empire.

More recently, the party launched a savage campaign against the Falun Gong spiritual movement in 1999, after adherents surrounded the compound that houses the nation’s top leaders and performed their signature breathing exercises.

Since then, thousands of Falun Gong members have been jailed and many more subjected to brutal “re-education.”

The Church of Almighty God was founded in central China’s Henan province in the early 1990s by a man called Zhao Weishan and has spread throughout the country.

Because it operates as a secret underground organization, it is impossible to estimate its full size, but one follower, who asked not to be named, told the FT that there were “at least several million” adherents across the country.

The government has long classified the group as an illegal cult and periodically cracked down on it for forcing members to hand over cash and assets, but the scale and severity of the latest campaign is unprecedented.

“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.”

Tao said the leader of the sect now lives in the United States.

— Financial Times

Gu Yu contributed to this report.

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