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
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
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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