WUKONG Doomsday phobia hits
China By Wu Zhong, China Editor
HONG KONG - In Chinese thought, whether
communist ideology like Mao Zedong's or Deng
Xiaoping's theory of socialism with Chinese
characteristics, or more ancient views of life,
one probably can find anything but a belief in the
end of the world.
But since the Roland
Emmerich-directed Hollywood disaster movie
2012 was screened in China in 2009, a small
but growing number of Chinese people tend to
believe in supposedly Mayan
prophecies that December 21
will be Earth's doomsday. Discussion panels on the
Internet have emerged. Some of the doomsday
theorists have begun to behave in ways other
people think as abnormal. This being China, some
savvy businessmen have even seen a good
opportunity to profiteer. But mostly these people
and their activities have been left largely alone
- until recently.
The 3D version of
2012 was screened last month in China, just
weeks before the supposed doomsday, and this
seemed to remind believers that the end of the
world was approaching - and fast.
of a university professor in Nanjing, capital of
wealthy Jiangsu province, rushed to mortgage an
apartment worth 3 million yuan (US$482,000) for a
loan of 1.04 million yuan, drew all her family
savings from banks and borrowed some more money
from colleagues. Altogether, she managed to
collect some 2 million yuan in cash and was
preparing to donate all of it to poor children to
make them happy "for the last few days".
When her plan was discovered and stopped,
she simply said, "Since the world will soon come
to an end and we'll all be gone, what should we
keep our property and money for?"
woman is a senior engineer and a well-educated
intellectual. Why would such a person believe what
is generally regarded as superstition? Astonished
and puzzled, Chinese media and public started to
pay more attention to the "doomsday" phenomenon.
Some commentators say irrational as her
behavior was, it still shows benevolence and a
loving heart because she tried to help others in
what she believed to be her last moments of life.
Compared with others actions by doomsday
theorists, her actions were indeed altruistic.
Believing that doomsday was approaching, a
carpenter in Chongqing municipality indulged
himself in dining and wining, spending all 110,000
yuan of his family savings just before his wife
was about to give birth to their daughter. Angered
by his "stupid" behavior, the wife left him -
taking away the daughter.
Two cousins in
Zhejiang province, after reading on the Internet
that "the end of the world will be in 2012",
decided to go on a robbing spree and enjoy
themselves. They quit their jobs, and in two
months they committed 12 thefts, spending the
money on drinking and fine food before being
caught by the police.
In Hohhot, the
provincial capital of Inner Mongolia, a young
woman threw her valuables out of a window in her
apartment, as she believed it was meaningless to
keep them since everything was about to be
In remote Xinjiang, a man spent
his family's savings, over 1 million yuan, to
build an "ark" in hopes that they could luckily
escape the eventuality. Similarly, a peasant in
Henan province built a boat which could
accommodate his family, valuables, poultry and
A savvy businessman in Zhejiang
saw this as a good opportunity and began to
advertise "modern Noah's arks" supposedly capable
of surviving disasters like a volcano eruption,
tsunami, flood, earthquake and even nuclear
radiation. The price varied from 1 million to 5
million yuan, depending on what auxiliaries a
customer would want to put in. He said he has
secured purchase orders for 21 units.
Lhasa, Tibet's capital, vendors in front of the
Potala Palace were seen selling postcard-tickets
to a "Noah's ark" at two yuan a piece, despite the
fact that the Potala is a Buddhist temple while
"Noah's ark" is a story in the Bible...
The doomsday phenomenon has led to
spirited discussions in Chinese media over why
people in today's China, including well-educated
folk like the Nanjing woman, could be easily
influenced by a superstitious belief.
blame an "ideological vacuum" in the past three
decades due to a lack of a new national ideology
to replace the abandoned orthodox Marxism and
Maoism. As a result, while people may have a
better material life, they are spiritually poor or
empty. Hence they tend to easily absorb any novel
ideas, like a piece of dry sponge absorbing water.
Other analysts say this may have something
to do with a growing sense of insecurity in
today's society. In a market economy, while there
are opportunities there are also risks. And life
nowadays seems to be full of crises nowadays.
When you eat, you are worried over food
safety. When you invest, you are worried you may
lose all your money. When you travel you are
worried about the possibility of a fatal accident.
When you turn on TV, you see wars and disasters.
When you are to get married, you are worried that
you cannot afford owning a home. When you are
sick, you are worried that you cannot afford
medical care... Thus some people become
increasingly nervous and anxious, thinking a world
full of uncertainties and crises is close to its
Each explanation may have
something in it. But from another perspective, one
may also say the fact that the 2012-phobia can
spread in China is a sign that Chinese society is
more open now than previously. Many different
ideas can spread throughout Chinese society
From this perspective, it may
also be said that it is progress when people are
no longer required or forced to believe in the
same idea, though religious freedom and freedom of
speech are still quite tightly restricted. It is
also a good thing to see that critical comments in
official media on 2012-phobia have so far remained
rational, reasonable, persuasive and educational
without any attempt to politicize the criticism of
this foreign "incorrect" idea.
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