Taoist priest with 'magical' powers accused of fraud


A CELEBRITY Taoist priest, Li Yi, abbot of Shaolong Temple at Jinyun Mountain in Chongqing and supposedly possessed of magical powers, has been accused of fraud and told to stop recruiting students to his school.

Since setting himself up as a Grand Master, Mr Li had gathered a following of 30,000 disciples, including big names such as software giant Jack Ma of Alibaba and singer Faye Wong. He was a regular fixture on TV.

Taoism is an ancient tradition of Chinese philosophy and religious belief, some 2,000 years old, concerned with unity and opposites, Yin and Yang. Harmony is a big element.

Mr Li is accused of faking “miracles” such as pretending to be submerged under water for two hours, and using his heels to breathe. He was later found to be inside a glass container, with a less than mystical air supply.

The abbot is also accused of using massive 220 volts of electricity to cure the sick, which authorities fear could be harmful.

This kind of cult is increasingly popular in China, which, as a communist state, is fiercely secular but where lingering affection for traditional beliefs, combined with a modern desire for spiritual relevance in a materialist society, has seen a revival in various beliefs, all marshalled by the Communist Party. This has benefited Taoism, and other organised beliefs such as Buddhism and Christianity. But it has encouraged its fair share of fakes.

The Religious Affairs Bureau of Beibei district had started an investigation after a flurry of online accusations of charlatanism, the Xinhua news agency reported.

He was even accused of rape at one point, though that accusation proved groundless, officials said.

Mr Li set up the temple with local government approval three years ago, one year after he became a Taoist and charged 9,000 yuan (€1,034) for a week-long course. Previously Mr Li had run a circus after graduating from school.

Fang Zhouzi, a commentator known in China for exposing religious frauds, said the reason why such charlatans become popular is because people are obsessed with their health; the public health service is poor; and there is a general ignorance about science and group psychology.

Mr Li, whose real name is Li Jun, also rose to become vice president of the Chinese Taoist Association, though he has since resigned that position. His current whereabouts are unknown. Mr Li is only the latest religious figure to be exposed as a fraud.

Earlier this year, Zhang Wuben, (47), a once-popular Chinese diet therapist, was found by officials to have faked his nutritionist qualifications. He said mung beans and aubergine could cure diabetes and even cancer.