Buddhism beliefs

Growing (and increasingly repressed) UFO beliefs in China

by Zhao Zhangyong

An image of Ashtar Sheran popularized in China by the Galactic Federation. From Weibo.

UFOs are returning to China after a period of decline. As evidenced by social networks, millions of young people are interested in UFOs and extraterrestrials, which raises some concerns within the Chinese Communist Party.

The theme was popular in the late 1970s and 1980s when UFO sightings were discussed in the official media, and a Chinese UFO Research Association was founded at Wuhan University and allowed to exist. UFO magazines and books were widely read, especially by students.

UFO beliefs gained legitimacy and popularity in the 1990s, when they were openly embraced by the most popular young Chinese novelist of those years, Ke Yunlu. Precisely because of his promotion of UFOs and qigong in the 1990s, Ke is somewhat less popular now, although his 1984 novel “A New Star” (新星), originally published in 1984 about an ambitious local Party bureaucrat which rose to national prominence thanks to its campaign against corruption, is now reread in China. In fact, some believe he anticipated Xi Jinping’s rise to power.

Ke Yunlu.  From Weibo.
Ke Yunlu. From Weibo.

Ke also promoted Hu Wanlin, a controversial healer from Sichuan who claimed he could cure most illnesses through qigong and herbal therapies. After Hu was accused of causing the death of several of his patients and ended up in prison, Ke had to produce two texts of self-criticism.

Before moving on to writing acclaimed Cultural Revolution novels, Ke published widely read UFO books in the 1990s, where he argued that Jesus was either the son of an alien who had kidnapped his mother Mary and had taken her to his spaceship, or had learned her doctrines from the extraterrestrials. This part of Ke’s career is not usually mentioned in Chinese publications celebrating him as an important writer. Memories of his UFO books, however, remain.

What made UFO literature less tolerated in China was the government’s decision to suppress Falun Gong in 1999. Since Falun Gong also includes UFO themes among its beliefs and literature, any other group mentioning contact with aliens becomes suspicious. At 21st century, theoretically discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial life was still allowed, but literature and groups that claimed that “contactees” had contact with extraterrestrials were much less tolerated and often labeled as xie jiao (“heterodox teachings”, sometimes translated as “evil cults”).

The most famous domestic UFO group in China was the Galactic Federation (银河联邦), founded by a woman named Zheng Hui (郑辉), born in 1966 in Nanning City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. She had a college education and worked at China Telecom until 2013, when she resigned to devote herself full-time to Galactic Federation activities under the name “Master Miao Le” (妙乐上师) .

Zheng Hui gives a lecture under the watchful eye of Ashtar Sheran.  From Weibo.
Zheng Hui gives a lecture under the watchful eye of Ashtar Sheran. From Weibo.

Zheng, an educated woman, was familiar with Western UFO literature (some of which had been translated into Chinese in the 1980s and 1990s) and mentioned familiar names in Western UFO groups such as the Pleiadians and their commander Ashtar Sheran, the leader of the Galactic Federation. She identified Ashtar Sheran with Buddha and claimed that he named her “Princess Buddha”, the representative on Earth of the Galactic Federation.

Unsurprisingly, the Galactic Federation was declared xie jiao in 2015 by Qingxiu District People’s Court in Nanning City, and began to be included in the lists of xie jiao by the Chinese Anti-Cult Association. Zheng received an eight-year sentence under Article 300 of China’s Penal Code, which prohibits establishing and being active in xie jiao, and is still in jail. His group, however, maintains openly active followers in the overseas Chinese diaspora.

An idealized image of Zheng Hui from his group's literature.  From Weibo.
An idealized image of Zheng Hui from his group’s literature. From Weibo.

What the court that sentenced Zheng Hui failed to understand was that his Galactic Federation, as an organized group, was only the tip of the iceberg. There were hundreds of UFO contactees in China, and references to the Pleiadians and Ashtar Sheran were not exclusive to Zheng’s movement.

During the COVID outbreak, contactees resurfaced, and alternative theories that the virus was of extraterrestrial origin or that only benevolent extraterrestrials can end the pandemic through their superior technology once again proliferated. Some Weibo accounts featuring UFO theories and contactees have amassed over a million followers. Those contacted who put forward what appeared to be “religious” claims were taken to police stations and detained.

Some Weibo accounts were shut down, only to be reopened under different names, initially saying they only discussed “scientific hypotheses” and did not want to promote any. xie jiao. The new popularity of UFO theories and messages among young Chinese is part of their attempt to find answers to their questions, which they feel the Communist Party is not providing. Some of these answers may seem strange or even ridiculous to many. However, in democratic countries, UFO stories are freely discussed, and those who tell them do not risk going to jail.