A court in China convicted former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang of massive corruption, but also for passing on classified state secrets to his qigong master, Cao Yongzheng, according to court documents released last week. Cao rose to fame in the late 1980s, when he "gained a reputation as a semi-immortal for his supernatural powers," The Associated Press reports, including soothsaying and curing infertility.
The reliance of Zhou, until recently a member of the powerful Standing Committee of the Communist Party's Politburo, on spiritual figures like Cao isn't that uncommon, AP says, despite the party's tradition of staunch atheism. Along with qigong — a practice of meditation, breathing, and movement, related to tai chi — officials turn to Buddhist and Taoist monks, feng-shui masters, and other spiritual directors. Cao, who became one of China's wealthiest men under Zhou's protection, has fled the country.
Zhou was caught up in President Xi Jinping's two-year-old corruption crackdown, and some conservatives see a connection. "Corruption is only a matter of course when officials abandon Marxism and Leninism for ghosts and spirits," conservative pundit Sima Nan said on his microblog account. "Now the party has distanced itself from atheism for so long as to allow (qigong masters) to have a good life."
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But Xi would have a hard time stamping out China's spiritual turn. "The Cultural Revolution has rooted out China's traditional value system, and the introduction of Western values was disrupted to some extent in 1989," after the Tiananmen Square killings, Chinese independent commentator Shi Shusi tells AP. "But human souls need to have a home, so the Chinese have found the home for their souls in those qigong masters."
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