CULTS IN CHINA
Between 1996 and 1999, according to Beijing sources, 10,000 sects were disbanded and 10,000 leaders were imprisoned in Hunan Province alone. Zhong Gong is qi gong-based movement somewhat similar to Falun Gong. It operates a network of schools and healing centers based on a particular brand of qi gong. Zhong Gong healers claim they can heal patients with brain tumors by pointing fingers at their head. Members claim they have paranormal powers and the ability to go without food for months. One hospital was shut down for practicing unlicensed medicine. Zhong Gong leader, Zhang Hongbao, worked as farmer and as metallurgist for a gold mine. He studied qi gong in his spare time and opened his own qi gong school in 1987. In 2000, he sought asylum in the United States after being accused of fraud and raping female members and was a suspect in a murder investigation.
Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “China has a long history of religion-infused political rebellions, dating at least to the nineteenth century, when a group called the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom attempted to overthrow the emperor. But these days the Party is especially uncomfortable with obscure religious beliefs because, in the post-Socialist era, many in China have begun to hunt for something to believe. At times, it can feel like half the people at a dinner table are trying out a new guru. In my neighborhood the other day, I was walking down a hutong that hugs the eastern wall of the Confucius Temple, when I came upon a new set of official posters on the bulletin board. They were cartoons with big-headed smiling figures and puffy comic-book writing, beneath the title, “Be On The Lookout for Cults, Build Harmony.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, December 19, 2012 ~]
“This was the latest offering from the government body known as the Beijing Counter-Cult Association. The association seems to be especially busy in our neighborhood because it’s ground zero for spiritual activity of one kind or another in the capital. In addition to the Confucius Temple, it is home to the Lama Temple (Beijing’s largest Tibetan monastery) and it has several blocks of fortune tellers. The new posters contained a set of instructions: “Countermeasures for the Falun Gong’s Everyday Tricks of Trouble-Making and Destruction.”“ ~
Evangelical Cults in China
Evangelical Protestantism is reportedly one of the fastest growing religions in China. The movement is particularly strong in Zheijiang and Heliongjiang Provinces and some of China’s more prosperous regions. More than 600 Protestant churches have opened up every year since the 1980s.
Some of evangelical Christians in China are a little wacky. The Crying School, a house church organization with at least 500,000 members, holds retreats in which followers wail and cry en masse for three days straight to purge their sins and repent in preparation for the apocalypse. Another group, the Shouters, yell and shriek a shortened version of the Lord’s Prayer while stamping their feet.
Some groups are like cults. The Three Grades Church, which claims to have several million followers, is led by a man named Xu Shuangfu who claims he can talk directly to God. Another group known as Eastern Lightning claims that Jesus has returned to earth in the body of a Chinese peasant woman. Both groups have been accused of kidnaping and beating recruits and employing brainwashing techniques. Biblically-inspired cults are particularly big in Hunan province.
In 2006 members of the of Three Grades Church was convicted on 20 murder charges involving attacks on Eastern Lightning. The group has not done much to hide its contempt for Beijing which referred to as the Great Red Dragon.
In 1999, police arrested 31 people and demolished three churches that belonged to a Protestant sect known as the “Cold Water Religion” in Guangdong Province. The sect claimed that cold water was the blood of God and it could be used to cure a host of illnesses. The cult was blamed for the deaths of at least five people who could have been saved with proper medical care but instead were treated with cold water.
Crackdowns on “Evil Cults” in China
According to Associated Press and Reuters: “China has struggled at times to control grassroots religious movements based on Christian or Buddhist ideology, most notably the Falungong meditation movement that attracted millions of adherents before being repressed in 1999. The party brooks no challenge to its rule and is obsessed with social stability. It has cracked down on cults, which have multiplied across the country in recent years. China's ruling Communist party is wary of independent organizations, and has cracked down harshly on groups it labels "cults," most notably the Falungong spiritual movement.
“The Chinese government has detained tens of thousands of Falungong members, according to rights groups, with some saying they have been tortured for refusing to give up their beliefs. China tightly controls the exercise of religion, permitting worship at government-controlled Buddhist, Daoist, Muslim, Protestant and Catholic establishments but banning other religious organisations. Demonstrations have been put down with force and some sect leaders executed. Former President Jiang Zemin launched a campaign in 1999 to crush the Falun Gong religious group, banning it as an "evil cult" after thousands of practitioners staged a surprise but peaceful sit-in outside the leadership compound in Beijing to demand official recognition of their movement.” [Ibid]
Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, It’s been more than a decade and a half “since China cracked down on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, arresting practitioners and pressuring them to renounce their beliefs. (The group’s status was the subject of a hearing this week before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.) But China maintains a fierce opposition to the group, and the posters provided a sense of how the government perceives that kind of threat. One cartoon showed a smiling trio of women. It turned out, according to the poster, that they were “forming secret ties and an underground gang to cause trouble and destruction.” Another panel showed a man running around town, posting what was described as “reactionary slogans and banners and counter-propaganda on front doors, and in bicycle sheds, and mailboxes.” One more cartoon showed a woman at a computer, where she discovered that cults will “use computer networks to create and spread all manner of rumors, and throw social order into disorder.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, December 19, 2012 ~]
“The last cartoon I saw before I continued on my way showed a group of men talking about what happens in the halls of official power in Beijing—a fairly common occurrence in a year like this. But that, the cartoon explained, was a trick known as, “Using hot topics that people are interested in to make a ruckus, confuse public opinion, and damage stable communities.” The poster suggested a countermeasure: “Keep away from the back-alley grapevine, avoid being taken advantage of by cults.” It showed a hand on which was written four habits to remember: “Don’t listen, don’t read, don’t share, and don’t join.” ~
Bans and Restrictions on “Evil Cults” in China
In 1999, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress adopted a decision, under Article 300 of the Criminal Law, to ban all groups the Government determined to be ‘cults,’ including the Falun Gong. The Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate also provided legal directives on applying the existing criminal law to the Falun Gong. The law, as applied following these actions, specifies prison terms of 3 to 7 years for ‘cult’ members who ‘disrupt public order’ or distribute publications. Under the law, ‘cult’ leaders and recruiters may be sentenced to 7 years or more in prison. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]
According to the U.S. State Department: Certain religious or spiritual groups are banned by law. The criminal law defines banned groups as “evil cults” and those belonging to them can be sentenced to prison. A 1999 judicial explanation states this term refers to: “those illegal groups that have been found using religions, qigong [a traditional Chinese exercise discipline], or other things as a camouflage, deifying their leading members, recruiting and controlling their members, and deceiving people by molding and spreading superstitious ideas, and endangering society.” There are no public criteria for determining, or procedures for challenging, such a designation. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, state.gov /|]
The government maintains a ban on the Guanyin Method Sect (Guanyin Famen or the Way of the Goddess of Mercy), Zhong Gong (a qigong exercise discipline), and Falun Gong. The government also considers several Christian groups to be “evil cults,” including the “Shouters,” Eastern Lightning, Society of Disciples (Mentu Hui), Full Scope Church, Spirit Sect, New Testament Church, Three Grades of Servants (or San Ban Pu Ren), Association of Disciples, Lord God Sect, Established King Church, Unification Church, Family of Love, and South China Church. The CCP maintains a Leading Small Group for Preventing and Dealing with the Problem of Heretical Cults and its implementing “610” offices (named for the date of its creation on June 10, 1999) to eliminate the Falun Gong movement and to address “evil cults.” /|\
Church of the Almighty God: China’s Christian Doomsday Cult
The Church of Almighty God is a fringe Christian group, whose members believe that Jesus was reincarnated as a Chinese woman. Also known as Eastern Lightning, the organisation is a doomsday cult founded in 1990 by a physics teacher named Zhao Weishan, who claimed to have found the female Christ in the form of young woman from northwestern Shaanxi province. “The Chinese government banned the church as a cult in 1995; Zhao and his female Chinese Jesus are apparently in exile in the U.S. [Source: Jeremy Goldkorn, Sup China, July 28, 2017]
In October 2014, a Chinese court in October sentenced two members of Almighty God to death for beating a woman to death at a McDonald's restaurant in the eastern province of Shandong. According to AFP: “The incident prompted a renewed crackdown on Almighty God, though the group on its official website distanced itself from the pair and said they had been forced into confessing. Beijing has for years struggled to suppress the group, which has attracted followers across China's countryside.” [Source: Agence France-Presse, December 27, 2014]
The group, whose Chinese name "Quannengshen" also translates as "All-powerful spirit," was founded in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang and later spread to the country's eastern provinces, according to Chinese media reports. Other reportedly say the group originated in Henan Province near Beijing. According to Reuters: “The Quannengshen group believes that Jesus was resurrected as Yang Xiangbin, wife of the sect's founder, Zhao Weishan, Xinhua said. Zhao is also known as Xu Wenshan, adding that the couple fled to the United States in September 2000. In 2012, China launched a crackdown on the group after it called for a "decisive battle" to slay the "Red Dragon" Communist Party, and preached that the world would end that year. [Source: Reuters, August 21, 2014]
In December 2012, Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “China has rounded up five hundred or so members of a fringe Christian group known as the Church of the Almighty God, which contends that the world will end on Friday. It had been distributing pamphlets and sending out cell-phone messages around the country warning, as one pamphlet put it: “December 21st is approaching, and on that day half of the world’s good people will die, and all evil people will die out—only if you join the Almighty God movement can you avoid death and be saved.” The group also predicts that “the sun will not shine and electricity will not work for three days,” according to the state press. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, December 19, 2012 ~]
“China is more taken with doomsday talk than you might expect; the thoroughly middlebrow Mayan-related thriller “2012” was such a box-office smash in China that it came back for a 3-D run. But it was the Almighty God’s more pointed message that really caught the Party’s attention. The group—which teaches, among other things, that Jesus Christ returned to earth in the form of a Henan woman named Deng—was known to call China “a fortress of demons,” and it exhorted its followers “to destroy the great red dragon.” ~
“Once the group was in the crosshairs, doomsday threats were being mentioned everywhere. Police in the province of Henan, where a man, last Friday, attacked a school with a knife, injuring twenty-two children, said that the suspect had been inspired by “doomsday beliefs” peddled by a local woman who predicted, as the state press put it, that “the end of the world is coming and the earth will explode.” State television also used it as an occasion to mention that it would step up “our anti-self-immolation fight,” a curious reference to the nearly one hundred Tibetans who have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest of Chinese policies. ~
Crackdowns on Church of the Almighty God
China has cracked down hard on the Church of Almighty God the group, detaining and imprisoning thousands since labelling it a "cult" in the 1990s. Li Ming, online editor for the state-backed China Anti-Cult Association, told the Sina news portal that China had at least 20 such cults, who had "coerced" millions of people. "Once you have been brain-washed it's very hard to get out. Because you have utter belief," Li said. [Source: Reuters, August 21, 2014]
In December 2014, AFP reported: “China has jailed six members of a fringe religious group known as "Almighty God" for up to five years for promoting their faith, state-media reported The court in the western city of Lanzhou said their activities "seriously disturbed social order and the work of state agencies," the official Xinhua news agency said in a brief dispatch. The six members were found to have held fundraising events and promotional activities, Xinhua said without giving details. They were each sentenced to between 3 and 5 years in jail. [Source: Agence France-Presse, December 27, 2014]
In August 2014, Reuters reported: : Chinese authorities have arrested "nearly a thousand" members of a banned religious group, state media said, the latest in a series of official moves against a group that China has outlawed as an illegal cult. China has sentenced dozens of followers of Quannengshen, or the Church of Almighty God, since the murder of a woman at a fastfood restaurant by suspected members of the group in June sparked a national outcry. Among those arrested were 100 "high-level organizers and backbone members", state news agency Xinhua said, citing a statement from the Ministry of Public Security. [Source: Reuters, August 21, 2014]
Church of the Almighty God Members Charged in McDonald's Murder
In May 2014, five people attacked and killed a woman in a McDonald’s restaurant in a small city in Shandong Province. Sup China reported: A bystander filmed the murder on a mobile phone and the footage spread rapidly on the internet.“The killers turned out to be members of the Church of Almighty God. During the trial of the five McDonald’s murderers, one of the accused said that his group had wanted to convert the victim but they killed her after she refused to tell them her phone number. [Source: Jeremy Goldkorn, Sup China, July 28, 2017]
In October 2014, a Chinese court sentenced two members of Almighty God to death — a father and daughter — for beating the woman to death at a McDonald's restaurant in the city of Zhaoyuan in the eastern province of Shandong. The victim — a 37-year-old woman surnamed Wu — refused an apparent attempt by the group to recruit her. Reuters reported; The Yantai Intermediate People's Court sentenced Zhang Fan and her father, Zhang Lidong, to death for intentional homicide and gave another member of the group, Lu Yingchun, life in prison, the official Xinhua news agency said. "Zhang Hang and Zhang Qiaolian, another two cult members, were sentenced to ten and seven years of jail terms respectively," Xinhua said. Zhang Hang is also a daughter of Zhang Lidong. Xinhua did not report ages of the five defendants, who were tried in August. According to Xinhua, Zhang Fan and Lu had called Wu an "evil spirit" and the group beat, kicked, and stomped on her head until she died on the scene. [Source: Reuters, October 11, 2014]
At the beginning of the trial, Reuters reported: “ China tried five members of a banned religious group for the murder of a woman who was beaten to death at a McDonald's restaurant after she refused to give them her telephone number when they apparently tried to recruit her. One man and four women were charged with murder and with illegal cult activities, according to the court in Shandong's Yantai city. The court's official microblog carried pictures of the five, dressed in orange jackets identifying them as the accused, with about a dozen policemen standing behind them. "The facts are clear and there is plenty of evidence," Gao Cheng, the lawyer for the murdered woman's family, was quoted as saying by the People's Daily on its website. The accused had shown no sign of repentance and so should be severely punished, Gao said. The court said the accused were allowed to defend themselves, but gave no details.[Source: Reuters, August 21, 2014]
After the murder Associated Press reported: “China announced the roundup of hundreds of alleged cult members following the deadly attack at a McDonald's restaurant. Slightly more than 1,500 cult members have been detained and prison terms handed out to at least 59, Xinhua said. It wasn't clear when the arrests took place, although the reports said some went back as far as two years. The reports appeared to be an effort to reassure the public following outrage over violence and other illegal activity blamed on cult adherents. The reports said cult members were given terms of up to four years on charges of "using a cult organization to undermine enforcement of the law." Accusations against them included that they used threats, violence and other illegal measures to expand their memberships and organizations. Those detained were allegedly members of the Church of Almighty God and the Disciples Sect, groups drawing on an unorthodox reading of Christian scripture. [Source: Associated Press, June 11, 2014]
New Oasis for Life Utopian Community in Yunnan
The New Oasis for Life is a utopian community with 130 like-minded utopians living in two settlements in Yunnan. Patrick Boehler wrote in the South China Morning Post, “Members of the group insist they are not members of a religious cult. New Oasis’ teachings, prescribed in the 800 Values for New Era Human Being written by founder Xue Feng, aim to transcend the teachings of Plato, Confucius and Marx to achieve a global community without class or property, members say. The utopian community is one of “no leaders, no dharma, almost no punishments”, according to a video the group made in 2012. “There is no family, no marriage, no private property, no currency in our second home,” 57-year-old Xue said in the video aimed at attracting new members, or "celestials". “Everyone can enjoy life and can have anything freely.” [Source: Patrick Boehler, South China Morning Post, January 6, 2013 \^/]
“Wong Sam quit his job at a five-star hotel in the Hong Kong to join the community four years ago. He is adamant that he doesn’t want to return to the SAR. “We have such a peaceful life here and we are trying to be role models for all of humanity,” the 71-year-old said. “We can’t leave.” Xi Dai, 24, she said she has no regrets over quitting her job in export sales in Jiangsu Province in 2011 and wants to stay in Lincang. "This group is more important than my life,” she said. “They can only make me leave by force.” \^/
“Both Xi and Wong said they discovered founder Xue’s thoughts online. He created his utopian vision of the world in the Zimbabwean capital Harare in 2002, where he was selling daily goods and clothes imported from China, he said. Two years later, he started spreading his message online. Early messages included the call for abolition of all political parties, including the Communist Party, and the creation of a global community of equals. By 2009, Xue and some 25 others set up a first settlement in Anning in Yunnan. The settlement still exists and is largely left alone by authorities. Two more, the one in Lincang and another in Chuxiong followed. “We will build 256 branches all over the world in the near future,” Xue said in a video. But his plans expansion plans have been cut short and members have conflicting theories over why they are facing the unprecedented harassment. \^/
New Oasis for Life Utopian Community Harassed in Yunnan
Patrick Boehler wrote in the South China Morning Post, “A utopian community has become the target of harassment by local authorities in China’s remote southwest after years of living secluded from the outside world. For 12 hours every day, village authorities in Lincang in western Yunnan province blast orders to disperse to the New Oasis for Life community of 63 people, accusing them of violating laws on marriage, forestation and child care.” A month earlier, “the group was cut off from electricity and water. Members say they have been questioned if they attempt to venture outside their tiny settlement and roadblocks have prevented outsiders from visiting them. [Source: Patrick Boehler, South China Morning Post, January 6, 2013 \^/]
“The group faces harassment as groups without state sponsorship have long been viewed with suspicion in China. The Lincang community in a photo shared by a resident.“Even though the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion, it tightly restricts spiritual practices to only five officially recognised religious organizations,” said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch. “The government considers any other spiritual group as unlawful and subjects them to raids, closures and detentions.” \^/
“The group’s luck turned with a visit of the provincial deputy governor Ding Shaoxiang to their Chuxiong settlement last year, said Xi. Shortly after, water and electricity was cut. They had to leave two months ago. Some residents moved to the remaining settlements, others left temporarily to work outside the community. Wong thought a real estate developer wanted their land and had lobbied with authorities to evict the group. “They try to frame us as an illegal organisation or a religious cult,” said founder Xue. “But we have done nothing illegal. We bought the land. We haven’t harmed anyone and have always gotten along well with the local residents.” He said he has no plans to leave. His wife has also joined him in the community. His son hasn’t. Xue said the North Carolina State University graduate chose to live in the US and work as an accountant. “We respect his choice, but he also respects ours,” said Xue.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; New Oasis for Life Utopian Community: New York Times
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2021