Jun 10, 2014

Anger in China over fatal beating of woman by cult followers

June 4, 2014
The Irish Times

Five members of a religious cult known as the Church of Almighty God have been arrested on suspicion of beating a young woman to death in a McDonald’s restaurant in Shandong for refusing to give her mobile phone number.

The vicious attack triggered nationwide outrage after a video of the beating went viral online. It allegedly took place on Wednesday last week in Zhaoyuan after the woman, surnamed Wu, refused to give her mobile phone number to the group, which was in the restaurant recruiting new members, Shandong police told Chinese state media.

Zhang Lidong, (54), and two of his daughters are among the six suspects accused of taking part in the McDonald’s attack. A son of one of the suspects who was also involved in the attack has not attained the age of criminal responsibility, according to Zhaoyuan police.

“She was a demon. She was an evil spirit,” Mr Zhang said in an interview on state broadcaster CCTV. He was shown handcuffed in prison garb, and showed no indication of remorse.
The Church of Almighty God, also known as Eastern Lightning, was set up in the early 1990s by Zhao Weishan, a physics teacher from Heilongjiang province, according to Chinese state media.

It was banned by Chinese authorities in 1995, after which Zhao fled to the US, the Global Times newspaper reported, and in late 2012, authorities arrested more than 450 people accused of belonging to the group after they held secret gatherings and spread leaflets in the apparent belief the world was going to end on December 21st that year.

China’s Public Security Bureau has announced a crackdown on the Church of Almighty God, focused on its activities in Shandong. “Religious cults recruit and control adherents by fabricating and spreading superstitions and heresies. They use various means to harm people and collect large amounts of money,” the bureau said in a statement.

Adherents to the cult believe that Jesus Christ was reincarnated as a woman surnamed Deng from central Henan province. They also claim to be on a mission to fight and slay the “big red dragon,” or China’s ruling Communist Party.

The incident has revived memories of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, as the two movements hail from the same part of China and have many similar characteristics.

China has labelled the Falun Gong an “evil cult” that encourages suicide, makes people neglect severe medical conditions and takes their savings. The authorities carried out a nationwide crackdown in 1999, putting thousands of members behind bars.

Beijing does not allow new religions outside the streams of the Communist approved versions of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism.

Chinese authorities are particularly wary of cults, which can grow in power and turn into national rebellions. Both the Boxer and Taiping rebellions in 19th century China had their origins in groups with spiritual or mystical components.

“The persistent existence and rampancy of cult activities in this country reveals worrying failures in both education and administration. That cults like the Church of Almighty God, whose crude ‘theories’ are nothing more than awkward blends of rural superstition and a madman’s ravings, have so easily established themselves and expanded in rural China is a loud slap in the face for the education authorities and their proud indices of success,” the China Daily said in an editorial.

Zhu Lijia, a public management professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, told the Global Times that followers were lured by the sense of security cults profess to offer. “Society is changing rapidly, which has led to individuals being unsure about their future. They are looking for spiritual relief and are easily influenced by cults,” he said.