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China and Superstitions PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

In today’s China, it appears that ancient superstitions are rising to the top of the politicians’ agenda for serious attention. The official view, their explanation for the series of misfortunes they believed to be threatening their careers last year, centered around a pair of Imperial guardian lions, traditionally known in Chinese as “shi,” and often called "Foo Dogs" in the West. They’re a pair of fierce-looking stone lions that guard so many homes and businesses, including the state-owned China Tobacco building just across the street from the government Land Bureau offices.

Well, a Land Bureau official has revealed that the secret weapon the Bureau used was “feng shui,” the ancient practice of how to arrange objects and to design architecture to supposedly improve health, prosperity and luck. For proof, he pointed at a stone wall in their parking lot that was built to block the feline statues’ harmful “qi,” or energy.

It’s a fact that Marxist ideology is fading in China, but as I’ve so often noted, ancient mystical beliefs once banned or shunned tend to gain ground and even replace one sort of nonsense with another; this happened in Russia within recent years when abandoned churches began to fill again as the grip of Communism relaxed.

Chinese fortunetellers are now eagerly offering costly sessions in astrology and numerology, and business people are consulting feng shui masters for financial guidance.

As The New York Times has just noted:

This mystical revival is attracting devoted followers in that most forbidden of realms: the marbled, atheistic halls of Chinese officialdom. Besieged by a meddlesome public at the gates and political      rivals amid their ranks, the country’s ambitious civil servants are increasingly — if discreetly — seeking supernatural shortcuts to wealth and power, much to the dismay of party ideologues and campaigners against corruption.

Some Chinese officials who embrace these notions have rather gone overboard with enthusiasm. From rural township party chiefs to the nation’s now-disgraced former rail minister, Chinese government officials are increasingly making budgetary decisions to fulfill their own personal prophecies and ambitions, according to experts, state news media reports and seasoned soothsayers. Liu Zhijun, that former railway minister, asked a feng shui master to choose auspicious dates for beginning major construction projects. While building what China intends to be the world’s largest high-speed rail system, Mr. Liu was fired in 2011, and charged last month with corruption and abuse of power. It was said that he accepted US$157 million in bribes and maintained a harem of eighteen mistresses, yet his especially heinous crime was: “belief in feudal superstitions.”

But at this point, we need to call upon Max Sennett [1880-1960] of Keystone Kops fame, for guidance. In 2009, in a gesture that feng shui masters said would cancel their bad luck, county officials spent some US$732,000 to move a 369-ton boulder – a rock! – six miles to the county seat. As an important part of the following consecration ceremony, the county magistrate solemnly walked 325 feet toward this “spirit rock,” bowing low every three steps, in accord with the proper instructions…

And remember, the population of China is said to be almost one-fifth of the world’s human beings… How can such a huge, ancient, accomplished, country embrace such superstitions and errors of thought?

But there is hope. Again, from The New York Times:

Last month, Wang Zuoan, the head of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, condemned superstition in a newspaper published by the Central Party School, the premier ideological training ground for government officials.

“For a ruling party which follows Marxism, we need to help people establish a correct world view and to scientifically deal with birth, aging, sickness and death, as well as fortune and misfortune,” he said.

Well, I would strongly disagree that Marxism is any better than a religion, but my confidence is high that China will come about and meet the high expectations I hold for it…

James Randi is Founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation.