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Mistrust of government stokes China's Mayan apocalypse mania

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"The Mayan calendar, which some say ‘ends’ in 2012, marks the end of the world": True or false?

If you answered true, you are among the one in seven people worldwide who believes the end times are near. And in China, where one in five people believe the above statement, people are getting ready for Doomsday -- and their government can't do much to stop it, according to Quartz.

Here are some of the ways China's obsession with the Mayan apocalypse is manifesting. The Chinese:

  • have been on a candle-buying spree, because of a rumor on China's version of Twitter, Sina Weibo, that said Friday would initiate three days of darkness; matches are also selling out
  • are giving away money (or scamming pensioners into a "last" act of charity that involves giving away their savings)
  • registering in droves for weddings on December 21, the supposed actual day of the Mayan apocalypse; four Chinese cities have reached their quota of registrations on that day

One man, according to CRI English, is even building a stainless steel version of Noah's Ark -- and has actually sold 15 of them to a businessman in Shanxi province and to some New Zealanders. The cost? Up to about $800,000 each.

The police have issued a public warning -- “The end of the world is purely a rumor, do not believe it by any means and protect yourself from getting swindled” -- but, as Quartz puts it:

"the problem is that the people don’t believe them. From the cover up of a SARS outbreak to sales of toxic milk formula, the Chinese government doesn’t have a good track record of transparency. Chinese media, state-owned or not, are controlled by the government and generally don’t report on problems before the government has a solution ready."

While the Chinese faith in the government is low; faith in the apocalypse is high: One man was spurred to stab 20 elementary school students last week because he wanted to become famous before the end of the world. And hundreds of people in a religious group spread doomsday messages while claiming that Jesus Christ had returned in the form of a woman from Henan province.

But the belief in Doomsday is prompting some altruistic acts as well. One woman, CRI English reports, mortgaged her property, which was valued at 3 million yuan, for a third of the price.  Why? She wanted to "donate the money to orphans and enjoy my life before doomsday."

Related on SmartPlanet:

via: Quartz, Telegraph, CRI English

photo: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Viktor M. Vansetsov/Wikimedia)

— By on December 20, 2012, 5:00 PM PST

Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure