An Examination of the Eastern Lightning Cult

The Government’s Response to Eastern Lightning

I have reached two conclusions while researching the EL in China. On one hand there is no doubt the Beijing central government have been trying to crack the EL for a number of years. One source states there are 2,000 EL practitioners presently in prison across China for their crimes. (9) The EL leadership has publicly declared that the Communist Party of China is the ‘Great Red Dragon,’ and its officials are the dragon’s offspring. When the Chinese authorities heard such words they immediately considered the group a political threat, with aims to overthrow the government, and they tried to persecute the EL mercilessly. According to an official government document, the EL’s “political purpose have become increasingly overt” and it notes “some of its top-level core members are ‘elites’ of the June 4th students’ protest movement of 1989.” These educated members “are editing books and propaganda material. In their conviction to overthrow the power of the ‘Great Red Dragon’ they are actively…drafting work plans in order to recruit more members.”(10)

As mentioned earlier, however, there seems to be a mounting body of evidence that points to many local level officials being protective, or at least sympathetic, to the EL. Some cadres and leading officials have converted to the cult, while it is likely many other officers have accepted protection money from the EL. This had led to a breakdown in Beijing’s efforts to destroy the cult. Many times the Beijing authorities appear to have been frustrated by the cult’s ability to evade the law, perhaps not fully realizing that the allegiance of many local officials is with the EL. The recently published secret government documents from China’s security sector records some remarkably frank admissions from a speech by Luo Gan, a member of China’s Central Politburo. Talking specifically about the government’s program to crush the Eastern Lightning, Luo admits, “We have not learned much about this cult organization.” (11) Zhao Shiju, Deputy-secretary of the Hebei Communist Party Committee, outlined his plan to learn more about the EL: “Manpower should be mobilized quickly to conduct investigation of the activities and spread of this cult in our province, to gather intelligence in an effort to round up the whole gang at one strike. Make sure it is kept in confidence, do your job without trumpeting.” (12) Jia Chunwang, the Minister of Public Security, emphasized “we need to work more and talk less to smash the cult quietly.” (13) These efforts seem destined to failure, however, for the very same paper notes that the EL has been able to “infiltrate into the inner circles of the [Communist] Party, government, and the Three Self Patriotic Movement.” (14) The EL operates under an extremely tight blanket of security; more so, it could be said, than any of the house church networks in China.

Some of the safeguards practiced by the cult include only holding gatherings that have been organized at short notice; never giving specific directions to a meeting place, but just the general area, from where the members will be brought to the meeting; posting security guards at the entrance to the village or meeting place to prevent access to all outsiders, and immediately calling the meeting leader’s mobile telephone if there are any signs of police action. In this way, EL members often completely scatter before the police even arrive at the door. The EL also insists their members only use mobile phones and pagers that are registered under false names, only use public phones and never their home phones, to change their numbers frequently, to never provide lodgings for members at the same place they have stayed before; and to relocate up to several times during a single day’s meetings to avoid detection from the authorities. (15) Even those EL members based in the United States use the same standards of secrecy as in China, operating clandestinely at every turn. All of these factors have added up to a lot of government frustration at their inability to make serious inroads into the Eastern Lightning.

This post was last updated: Dec. 17, 2012