A secretive cult that exploits the weak and vulnerable

Updated: 2014-06-26 09:20

By He Na, Li Yao and Adelina Zhang (China Daily)

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A secretive cult that exploits the weak and vulnerable

Members of Quannengshen promote the cult on a street in Hong Kong. Critics say the sect's main targets are the elderly, 'left-behind' women, laid-off workers and distraught divorcees. Edmond Tang / China Daily
Outside the mainland

Pastor Lee Hoi-ping at the Chinese Christian and Missionary Alliance Sheung Shui Church in Hong Kong has encountered similar problems. He said a number of Quannengshen members had joined the church under assumed names to recruit new members.

Lee noticed one woman in particular. He said the 50-something was very keen to make new friends, who she invited to her home to cook dumplings with her. However, when they arrived, they said they were introduced to a much younger woman who read excerpts from "heretical books" and preached a perverse form of Christianity.

In the early years of this century, Quannengshen maintained a low profile in Hong Kong, but in 2012, it started to emerge from the shadows, setting up street booths, distributing pamphlets, placing ads in newspapers, and, most effectively, befriending regular churchgoers.

As in rural areas in the mainland, the cult's modus operandi was to encourage women to leave their families and break with their children. As a result, many abandoned husbands turned to Lee, who confronted the recruiters on a number of occasions, eventually banning them from attending church assemblies.

"At first they apologized. They asked for a second chance and promised not to do it again," he said. Despite the promises, however, the group continued to recruit during services and study sessions.

In the US

When Quannengshen's founder, Zhao Weishan, fled to the US, the cult extended its business activities to that country.

"They're very abrasive and unfriendly to legitimate churches and communities, especially in China. They're not as dangerous here in the US, but we have dealt with them here in our church. They have some influence in New York and Philadelphia," said Pastor Laurence Tom from the Chinese Christian Church and Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Tom, a US-born ethnic Chinese who has firsthand experience of the cult's methods in Philadelphia's Chinatown, said the recruiters begin by expressing traditional beliefs but then start to target vulnerable individuals and invite them to Quannengshen meetings.

"They are increasing in influence, which is a great concern. I think our church has great influence with immigrant communities. Sometimes, to immigrants, a cult like Eastern Lightening can sound similar to us. Unwittingly, the immigrants might trust them because they are Christian, but then they learn that their intentions are bad, and they end up in a bad place. They can become isolated from friends and family. That's what the tactics are - individuals who become part of this cult become isolated," said Tom.

"They're restricted from contact with church members, or from family and friends. I think the cult is potentially dangerous to immigrants," he added.