Spiritual masters cultivate a network of opportunity
Questions are asked as to how a self-proclaimed qigong master has managed to make a fortune from the rich and famous
For two decades, self-proclaimed qigong master Wang Lin led a comfortable life outside the media glare - until photos were leaked last week showing him receiving billionaire Alibaba founder Jack Ma Yun at his villa in Jiangxi's Luxi county.
For many, the image of Wang hobnobbing with the rich and famous focused overdue attention on the cosy relationship between such spiritual masters and the country's elite. It also reignited a heated debate over qigong itself. Is it a valuable healing practice or superstition?
Over the years, the 61-year-old qigong master cultivated an impressive network of powerful friends, including Liu Zhijun , the former railways minister who this month received a suspended death sentence for corruption.
After The Beijing News revealed Wang's July 3 meeting with Ma - the purpose of which remains unclear - internet users circulated photos of him rubbing shoulders with dozens of celebrities, such as action star Jet Li and actress Vicki Zhao Wei.
Previously, Wang had claimed to cure many patients - among them late Indonesian dictator Suharto. He once boasted he had turned down some 70 green-card offers from US intelligence agencies seeking to persuade him to emigrate.
In the meantime, Wang had made a fortune from his admirers, the paper said. He acquired a Rolls-Royce, three Hummers and a villa in a Yifeng county nature area.
Questions have also been raised about his past. Quoting a retired Nanchang prison warden Xie Zuqing , The Beijing News alleged Wang was sentenced to seven years' jail for swindling in 1979. Wang has not responded to the claim.
The spotlight soon turned to Wang's qigong performances, where he has claimed to possess supernatural powers to heal and even reanimate the dead. Video clips of Wang claiming to resurrect a dead snake surfaced.
The Beijing News said Wang had even promised to give Liu a "warrant stone" to safeguard him from downfall. Apparently, Liu never got the gift. Either that or the stone didn't work.
A commentary in People's Daily-affiliated haiwainet.cn on Tuesday likened Wang's feats and those of many other supposed qigong masters to street performances - as they could not be scientifically substantiated.
"How could the elites be still willing to pursue these masters in droves?" the item asked. "Or don't people like [Jack] Ma Yun and Vicki Zhao have a basic knowledge of science?"
The commentary added that the elites might be using the masters and powers they claim to possess as a way to reach others with more prominent social status.
Movie star Li Bingbing acknowledged to The Beijing News having once sought his help over her mother's illness. She stopped short of endorsing his treatment as effective.
The Southern Metropolis Daily questioned why so many in power - including corrupt officials - sought comfort from people like Wang, while most of the public was likely to dismiss them as quacks.
The paper noted that Ma was accompanied to Wang's home by Luxi county governor Yao Hu . The county's publicity department admitted the government was keen to court Ma for investment. The paper said Wang was highly regarded among local bureaucrats for serving as a bridge to higher authorities and promoting the county among the elites.
Later in the week, The Beijing News disclosed that Wang had been allowed to build a second villa inside a Yifeng county nature reserve in 2008.
The Xiaoxiang Morning Post said in a commentary that Wang's mastery lied in his ability to cultivate a network of stars, business elites and government officials.
"To some extent, Wang's tale amounts to a surrealistic fable which is about nothing but the collusion among opportunists and the collusion between power and money," it said.