An Examination of the Eastern Lightning Cult

Who are the Eastern Lightning?

“The satanic cult ‘Eastern Lightning’ is one of the most evil and deceitful cults I have ever seen in China. They are positively sheep in wolves’ clothing; they attack Jesus Christ, twist and defraud the Bible, destroy families and lives, causing great hurt and destruction to Christians who have been bought by the precious blood of the Saviour! They are devils dressed as ministers of light, workers of Satan, and false prophets after the ways of Balaam. May the Lord have mercy upon the elect that they may be able to discern, to reject all lies and the deceitful words from Satan. May our brethren be on the alert! May the deceived quickly repent and return!” – Rev. Pang K.H., Chinese Christian Church of Saipan, 20 September, 2000.

Eastern Lightning, or Dongfang Shandian in Chinese, was founded by Zhao Weishan in Acheng City, Heilongjiang Province, in 1989. Zhao was an unhappy member of the Shouters sect. He rejected many of the Shouters’ teachings and broke away with several other church members to start a new group which they called ‘Church of the Everlasting Fountain.’ Zhao began to call himself “Powerful Lord.”

They grew rapidly, and somehow managed to receive substantial financial support that enabled them to set up an underground printing house, producing tens of thousands of booklets and tracts outlining their views. By 1991, when the group was declared illegal and the printing press was shut down, they already had thousands of followers.

Zhao and his leading coworkers fled from the authorities in Heilongjiang and restarted their activities in Henan Province. In 1993 Zhao changed the name of the cult to “Real God” and said he had received divine revelation on the verse “For as lightning that comes the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:27). This is how they came to be commonly known as the “Eastern Lightning,” or “Lightning from the East.”

Zhao sent his main leaders, Yi Haitao, Zhang Xindong and Zhang Hongzhen, throughout Henan Province, spreading their influence among thousands. Many of the deceived who joined their group were illiterate rural house church members, who had little Bible training and so were susceptible to the group’s influence. They also target educated university students who have an unstable grounding in the Bible.

Eastern Lightning quickly spread to neighboring Anhui, Shaanxi and Jiangsu, and then to most parts of China. Today the Eastern Lightning (EL) has grown with remarkable speed to at least 22 of China’s provinces, and they are believed to number in the millions of members. A November 2001 article in Time Magazine said the EL claim just 300,000 followers across China, (2) but that number is almost certainly a deliberate underestimation, especially considering the Chinese government concedes the EL have infiltrated more than 20 provinces throughout the nation.

The EL are highly organized and secretive. Their structure is hierarchal, ranking from “the person used by the Holy Spirit” (Zhao), to provincial leaders, district leaders, section leaders, and cell group leaders. Each member is given responsibility for tasks he or she must carry out.

The Eastern Lightning are known to have a special emphasis on publishing literature. According to a speech by Bi Rongsheng, deputy director of the Shijiazhuang Public Security Bureau, the cult printed a total of 870,000 books between 1989 and 1999. (3)

Instead of trying to convert unbelievers to their group, the Eastern Lightning appears to have decided it is better to deceive existing Christians. They do not mind targeting nominal believers, but it’s clear their chief goal is to attack church leaders and those with the most influence. Their methods have included financial inducement, beatings and torture, sexual seduction, and brainwashing.

In 1997, Tianfeng, the official magazine of the Three Self Patriotic Movement (China’s government-sanctioned church) were so alarmed at the inroads Eastern Lightning were making among their congregations that they wrote several articles exposing the cult, warning readers how to defend themselves against it. The magazine noted, “The [Eastern Lightning] missionaries scurry to every part of the country, making a beeline especially for the responsible persons and preachers in other religions, those who have been preaching for many years, and when someone of a definite status has been trapped he becomes their tool and their accomplice in crime.” (4)

Even the Catholic Church has seen many of their top leaders lured over to the Eastern Lightning. According to an official Chinese government report, “This cult is hastening its efforts to infiltrate underground Catholic churches so as to increase its strength by uniting with other underground powers. Tangshan Public Security authority [in Hebei Province] discovered that underground Catholics in areas such as Zunhua, Fengnan and Qianan have joined hands with this cult.” (5) The founder of the Eastern Lightning, Zhao Weishan, was granted refugee status in the United States in 2000, on the ground of being persecuted for his religious beliefs. He continues to command the cult’s activities inside China and around the world from his American base.

In recent years the Eastern Lightning are believed to have won over leading Communist Party figures in various localities. After
indoctrinating them and being sure of their allegiance, the cult then persuades the officials to use their influence to protect cult members, and to create ways for the group to multiply. Although the Eastern Lightning are number two on Beijing’s “Cult Hit List,” ranking only after the Falungong, (6) efforts to crush the EL appear to have been sidetracked by local government officials around the country who have been converted to, or bought off, by the cult.

Although we have seen the EL have targeted government officials, Catholics, and Three Self Church leaders, there is no doubt the main focus for the cult is the unregistered Protestant house church churches, believed to number between 50 and 70 million adherents throughout the country.

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This post was last updated: Dec. 17, 2012    
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