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    Greater China
     Dec 12, 2012

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.

The wife 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?"

This 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 destroyed.

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 livestock.

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.

In 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.

Some 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 destruction.

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 nowadays.

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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