The documents, if authentic, would indicate that the Chinese Communist Party has for years been carrying out a systematic campaign against religions that refuse to submit to its control. But it appears that it is not just a matter of religious persecution. The religious groups branded 'evil cults' are not mainstream religions. Some of their doctrines - such as those preached by the Established King, East Lightning and Spirit Sect - are prophecies of doom exceeding anything from the Bible. Even Christians from mainstream churches disagree as to whether they are 'special' or heretical. Overseas Christians argue over whether these religions are cults. But what the documents show is who has the power to call a religion a cult in China. The power now rests exclusively with the Government, or more specifically, the police. Public security officers and state security agents can - without consultation with any religious experts - brand any group a cult if it 'manufactures and distributes superstitions and heresies'. Such an arbitrary and catch-all definition is open to abuse and contradicts the constitution which guarantees freedom of religion. Also, by warning of the growing influence of these religious groups, the documents confirm reports that mainlanders are turning to religion in droves. They may not worship openly in government-registered churches or temples but their numbers are growing rapidly. But why are so many Chinese being drawn to religion? The documents indicate officials are being evasive about confronting the problem. Officials say the public is being tricked into believing by devilish cult leaders. In other cases, religious groups are said to be a 'conspiracy' by the United States and Taiwan to subvert China or are linked to political dissidents who seek to end the Communist Party's rule in China. Officials suggest that privately run businesses and underground Catholic organisations must be watched closely to avoid infiltration. Such paranoid views betray a deep insecurity within the leadership. Although it is well known that many of these groups have established links with overseas bodies, they are often divided and rarely communicate with one another. They may not like the authorities much but don't like each other either. Scholars who have studied religions in China believe that atheism alone can no longer explain the official hostility. Party leaders have long conceded that religions have existed down the ages in China and cannot be wiped out by force. Instead, scholars suggest that party leaders feel threatened because religions have trespassed into the sacred ground of the Communist Party - morality. 'To preserve the party's stranglehold on power, the Communist Party cannot afford to lose the moral high ground to religions,' one Hong Kong-based expert said. He pointed out that in December when President Jiang Zemin addressed a religious conference, he virtually ignored the morality represented by some religions and merely acknowledged they could be 'channelled' to contribute to China's modernisation. By branding religions that do not submit to their control as cults, or imposing surveillance over them, local leaders can kill two birds with one stone. Not only do they appease their superiors in reporting successful crackdowns, they also hide the tyranny in their own backyards under the banner of 'preservation of social stability'. Few doubt there are cults on the mainland. Some groups' beliefs are deeply rooted in Chinese mythology and customs and some are foreign imports. But scholars and missionaries abroad worry that as the authorities continue their witch-hunt, many more innocent people will be caught in the crossfire.