Claiming to be a supreme being can serve a charlatan well in China


The Associated Press, October 18, 1999

XIANGTAN, China - A delicate-looking man with bright eyes showed up in this dusty town a few years ago, preaching that he was a resurrected god, though with a scraggly beard and a preference for plastic flip-flops, he hardly looked like one.

Finding a deep spiritual hunger among ordinary townspeople, the would-be god, Liu Jiaguo, quickly attracted thousands of followers who eagerly subscribed to his bizarre teachings and revered him as the "Supreme Deity."

More than a dozen of his devotees, the authorities now say, were young women who were coaxed into his bed. Countless others were persuaded to empty their wallets in hopes of achieving the pay-back that the Supreme Deity promised would follow.

This cult, attracting more than 10,000 people at its peak in 1997, is one of hundreds that have ap-peared in China, demonstrating a marked eagerness of ordinary Chinese to seek spiritual fulfillment in a fast-changing society that many find bewildering.

When Chinese authorities began a crackdown in July on Falun Gong, one of the largest spiritual movements in China, with perhaps 20 million members, they lifted a lid on a multitude of cults that have thrived. In an effort to show how easily people can be tricked by charlatans like Liu, the authorities have been publicizing cases that had been kept secret.

The Supreme Deity cult was the inspiration of Liu, 44, who was sentenced to death in June, convicted of rape and extortion.

As a young man, Liu joined a Christian church in his hometown in Anhui Province, in central China, apparently because his mother was a practicing member. He was not particularly devoted, by his own account, but he began working at the church because he was unemployed and had little else to do.

In telling his story, recounted in an official report that was printed in a Beijing newspaper, Liu said he was approached in church in 1993 by two followers of an obscure sect who swore they had found the reincarnation of a god. The supposed god, described by the authorities as a con man named Wu Yangming, looked quite ordinary to Liu, but the religious operation was raking in thousands of dollars from the newly faithful.

Liu became a proselytizer for the sect and moved here to Xiangtan, a city of 700,000 in Hunan Province. Preaching for someone else's cause has its limitations, however, and in 1995, after disputes with Wu's operation, Liu formed his own group.

"My experience let me see that, nowadays, people blindly believe in gods and spirits," Liu said, according to the official account. "People do not really know what gods are, but if you flaunt a divine banner, people believe in you and are willing to dedicate everything they have to you. So I thought, if Wu Yangming can be a god, so could I."

Proclaiming himself to be the supreme deity, selected by the heavens to lead people to salvation, Liu assiduously went about recruiting followers. By May 1997, he convened a national congress that drew disciples from 15 provinces, representing more than 10,000 followers.

Liu found it was relatively easy to exact tribute.

According to the official account, a follower named Zhang Mo was told by one of Liu's top assistants that their new god needed a mobile phone. "Everyone has a mobile phone; how can it be right that the supreme deity does not have one?" Zhang recalled being asked.

Drawing followers to a religion also provided Liu with temptations of a more illicit nature. Keeping his eye out for attractive young women among the many who flocked to his prayer sessions in the basement of an abandoned building, Liu used his lieutenants to persuade several to accompany him to bed.

In June 1998 the authorities arrested Liu and charged him with raping more than a dozen women. Twenty-six of his assistants were also arrested and charged with crimes from robbery to extortion.

In his own defense, Liu said he had never forced himself on anyone. Instead, he said, he or his lieutenants would "summon" young women to his bed, and they went voluntarily.

One victim later gave the authorities an account of what a lieutenant said when she resisted her "summons."

"If you disobey, catastrophes will befall you," the woman recalled being told. "If you agree to be summoned by the supreme deity, you should never tell anyone about it, otherwise you will be punished by God!"

The woman relented.

Liu did not stop at such seduction, however. Adopting a common practice of wealthy businessmen in China, he took a handful of women as regular mistresses and set them up in separate apartments.

One such woman, who bore Liu a son and told the authorities about it later, said Liu had arranged for a two-bedroom apartment and a maid for her in Zhuzhou, a neighboring town, but went to see her only twice in a year.

Once he was arrested, Liu, perhaps in hopes of winning a reduced sentence by showing humility, readily admitted that he tricked his followers and pointed to his own predicament - stuck in jail - as evidence.

"If I were a god, would I be here today?

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.