Beijing wages war against apocalypse "rumors"

Is Beijing working extra hard to prove 'rumors' are a dangerous phenomenon in the People's Republic? 

Maya pyramid in Yucatan, Mexico (Victor Casillas Romo)

Chinese authorities are cracking down on rumors that Friday – the end of a cycle of the Maya calendar – will mark an apocalypse. But they aren't troubling themselves as they have for other, more politically sensitive 'rumors' in 2012.

Close to a hundred people have been arrested in recent weeks for alleging that the world will come to an end this week, according to Beijing's mouthpiece, Xinhua News Agency.

The 2012 rumors have ravaged the consciousness of many in the People's Republic, where the 2009 Hollywood blockbuster of the same name was one of few foreign films cleared for appearance in Chinese cinemas and became a fan favorite.

Various Chinese media articles have attributed instances of chaos in recent weeks to 'rumors' of a Maya apocalypse.

An article from another state-owned media, China Daily, published last week claimed that the Maya rumors provoked great 'panic' in two counties in Southwestern Sichuan Province, where residents reportedly sold merchants out of candles and matches – apparently useful in a blackout thought to be slated for the end of days. 

The implications are even more sinister, Beijing would have us believe. The Chinese government has also attributed the injury of 23 schoolchildren in Northeastern Henan Province to a slasher, reportedly deranged by the Maya rumors, according to a story in The Guardian Monday that cited Chinese media sources.

In 2012, China has engaged in an impassioned war against 'rumors,' particularly those spread on the Chinese Twitter, Sina Weibo. This year, on April 24th, Weibo users received a message compelling them not to start or re-post any rumors or face law enforcement, citing instances of users in Southeastern Guangzhou Province whom authorities had already detained. 

The message arrived in Weibo inboxes weeks after wild speculation arose on Chinese social media regarding the instability of the Chinese Communist Party, following the dismissal of former Chongqing Communist Party Chief Bo Xilai – once a hopeful for a spot as one of the nation's most powerful leaders in Beijing. 

Around that time, searching for Bo Xilai in Chinese or Latin characters navigated to a message saying that the requested information was deemed illegal by the authorities. 

Later in the year, during the scandal surrounding Chen Guangcheng, the blind human rights lawyer who famously sought shelter and eventually exile at the US embassy in Beijing, the phrase “blind lawyer” was also blocked.

While Chinese censors are ostensibly concerned with the effects of the Maya rumors on the Chinese public, searching the word 'Maya' as of Monday, 5:00PM Vancouver time – weeks after the start of the infamous arrests of Maya apocalypse rumor-mongers... leads to Weibo posts on the Maya rumors. No major keyword block exists, even as Beijing attributes a slasher attack and public unrest to the prospective apocalypse.

Many analysts have said that China's vendetta against rumors is part of a perennial attempt to curb freedom of expression, particularly in an age where news spreads fast on social media. 

Typical of Weibo posts, many point sarcastically at what they say is a lot of hokum about an end of days. 

“Thanks to the Maya, I have had a good reason to hoard food like crazy,” joked user Rongrong, with a picture of an overstocked kitchen cupboard.

Some Weibo users noted that China's belief in the Maya 2012 phenomenon is perhaps overwhelming.

“Around the world, only 10 per cent of people believe the Maya prophecy of the end of the world. Unfortunately, of that 10 per cent, many are Chinese... A tragic comedy,” wrote user Shira_DaShuang.

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