A man walks past a poster for the Hollywood film 2012 at a subway station in Beijing on Thursday. (AFP)
Beijing, Dec. 20: By the time Saturday rolls around (or not) it will be self-evident whether the doomsday predictions espoused by some Christian sects and New Age followers of the Mayan end-of-world prophecy were off the mark.
The Chinese authorities are not willing to wait until then.
Alarmed by spreading fears in China that December 21 will bring global apocalypse, security officials across the country have been rounding up members of a renegade Christian group whose members have been aggressively promoting the notion that devastating earthquakes and tsunamis will coincide with the end of the 5,125-year Mayan Long Count calendar.
In recent days, the police in nine provinces have arrested nearly 1,000 devotees of the clandestine sect, the Church of Almighty God, whose adherents recently have begun holding outdoor prayer vigils and handing out pamphlets that warn non-believers that the only way to avoid extinction is to join their ranks.
Branded an “evil cult” by the Communist Party and maligned by mainstream Christian groups for claiming that God has returned to earth as a Chinese woman, the Church of Almighty God latched on to the Mayan end-of-days legend soon after the Hollywood disaster film 2012 took Chinese theatres by storm. The movie, which gives China’s military a starring role as the saviour of mankind, was a huge success here three years ago. A 3-D version that opened last month across the country has already earned $22 million, a substantial box office take in China.
It is impossible, of course, to gauge how many Chinese have been swept up by doomsday mania, or the less catastrophic version popular here that portends three continuous days of darkness, accompanied by a collapse of the nation’s electrical grid. Stores across the country have reported panic buying of candles, and a few entrepreneurs have made out well peddling survival kits or portable “Noah’s Arks”.
Liu Ye, a Beijing office worker, said he had already filled up the cataclysm-proof bunker he built in the mountains near Lhasa, in Tibet. The entry fee to his sanctuary was $8,000.
Yang Zhongfu, a businessman in coastal Zhejiang Province who usually makes a living producing scarves, says he has sold 26 steel-and-fiberglass floating spheres that each can contain and sustain as many as nine people for months. He said one anxious customer ordered 15 of the motorised vessels, which include oxygen tanks, solar lighting and seat belts to reduce jostling as passengers ride out a hypothetical deluge.
The most expensive model, at $800,000, includes sacks of soil for growing vegetables. “I told buyers I think they are overreacting to this so-called doomsday thing, but I respect their decision,” Yang said.
The fear among security officials that apocalypse fever might get out of hand is not entirely unfounded. Last week, a mentally unstable man who slashed students at a primary school in the central province of Henan told investigators that his rampage had been prompted by end-of-world jitters.
Public security officials across the country have been broadcasting warnings about purveyors of apocalyptic doom, some of whom are demanding money in exchange for salvation. “The end of the world is purely a rumour,” the Shanghai police said in a microblog message. “Do not believe it. Do not fall for the scam.” But the brunt of the official crackdown has fallen on members of the Almighty God sect.