The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
New Taiping Rebellion Threatening Beijing?

China has a long and bloody history, and one of the bloodier episodes is the Taiping Rebellion, in which a Chinese man claiming to be the younger brother of Jesus led a violent uprising against the corrupt Manchu dynasty ruling China. The conflict raged for 14 years before coming to an end in 1864, with a death toll in the tens of millions.

As a result of movements like these, China’s rulers past and present have tended to be anxious about upstart religious cults. The Chinese Communist Party is no exception, and is worried about another such group today. The Financial Times reports:

Police across China are rounding up members of a quasi-Christian doomsday cult who have been preaching the end of the world and urging people to launch a “decisive battle” to slay the “big red dragon” of the Communist party.

The group, which preaches the second coming of a female Jesus, appears to have adapted an ancient Mayan prophecy that some people believe predicts the end of the world on December 21 2012. . . .

“They are telling everyone that on Friday the sun will rise in the west and then disappear for three days and then there will be 72 days of terrible natural disasters starting from January 1 2013,”

The “Oriental Lightning” cult has a colorful story of its own, believing that Jesus has returned as a young Chinese woman named “Lightning Deng”, who has written a third testament. The group may have over a million members, and, like the Falun Gong before it, its teachings have been outlawed and its members violently oppressed by the Chinese government. Their founder appears to live in the United States, although few other specifics are known.

Could this be a bad omen for the Communist Party? Traditionally in China the rise of religious cults (along with proliferation of corrupt officials and major earthquakes) have been seen as signs that a dynasty is losing its grip. Officials in Beijing are well aware of this and are keen to avoid broadcasting these warning signals to the broader population.

Expect more such cults to arise in different places both in China and elsewhere around the world. Where a rising surge of Christian conversions meets a non-Christian culture, strange and often quite powerful religious movements well up. (A mild recent form of this phenomenon is Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.) Contemporary Africa is also full of such groups. Often connected to apocalyptic fears (natural in an age like ours), these cults sometime burn out fast and sometimes gradually cool into increasingly respectable denominations.

Expect Beijing to keep cracking down on these movements; the memories of Taiping are still vivid.

Published on December 18, 2012 3:05 pm