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Religious Diversity In China
August 3rd 1999 2:03 P.M. EDT
Apocalypse When

In China's battle against mysticism, Falun Gong is just the tip of the
iceberg. What else worries Beijing? Witches, weepers and weather.

By Melinda Liu

Grandma Tang, a 71-year-old resident of the Hunan city of Shaoshan,
doesn't believe in Falun Gong. But that doesn't mean she's not covering
her spiritual bases. The red wall shrine in her home features
a forest of incense sticks and a wooden ancestor tablet.
There's a statue of the Taoist Goddess of Mercy. Nearby sits a pair of
smooth wooden crescents, found in many Buddhist temples, which are
thrown on the floor to reveal answers to a petitioner's questions.
In the center of it all is a porcelain bust of China's late
Great Helmsman Mao Zedong, who was born virtually next door to
Tang's house. "I throw these once in a while to help me make
decisions," she says, pointing to the crescents. "But I believe only in
Chairman Mao."
The Chinese want to believe. Problem is, Beijing's post-Mao leadership
is increasingly hard pressed to come up with something they
can all believe in. Once upon a time Marxist dogma was the answer.
But today officially recognized religions—Buddhism, Taoism,
Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism—are enjoying a renaissance in
China. So are plenty of other forms of worship, ranging from the benign
to the bizarre. There are the hordes of believers claimed by
Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi. There are also face readers, funeral
shamans and Christian cultists known as shouters and weepers who
disrupt church services. There are rural "witches" who beseech fox
spirits to bestow fertility. And pseudoscientists who find prophecies
inside crumpled papers. According to one estimate, quasi
religions may have as many as 100 million followers, the same amount as
the state-sanctioned faiths. As Si Manan, a famous anti-
superstition crusader, puts it, "Li Hongzhi is just the tip of the

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