Chinese police have detained more than 100 people, among them members of a fringe Christian group, for spreading rumors about the world's impending end, state media reported Tuesday.
Police seized leaflets, video discs, books and other apocalyptic materials in the recent arrests of 101 people across eight provinces and regions, from the prosperous east coast to less developed western China, the Xinhua News Agency said.
The detentions come ahead of Friday, Dec. 21 — a date some say the Mayans prophesized would be the end of the world and which was the subject of the apocalyptic movie "2012."
Nearly half those detained are reported to be members of the group Almighty God, which is also called Eastern Lightning, after a phrase from the Bible's Book of Matthew. Widely regarded as a heretical Christian sect, the group preaches that Jesus has reappeared as a woman in central China. It has been accused of targeting Christians, kidnapping and beating them to force conversions.
Chinese society has been in tumult as decades of rapid free-market economic growth discredit communist ideology, loosen social controls and pull hundreds of millions from the countryside to the cities. Into the spiritual void have rushed traditional Buddhist groups and Daoist practices, as well as evangelical Christian churches and other spiritual groups, some with unorthodox and apocalyptic visions.
Eastern Lightning first appeared around 20 years ago, and Xinhua said that its members had "recently latched on to the Mayan doomsday prophesy to predict that the sun will not shine and electricity will not work for three days beginning on Dec. 21."
The state-run Huashang website last week, citing local authorities, reported that the group is urging followers to "exterminate the great red dragon" — a reference to the Communist Party — "and found a country under the rule of Almighty God."