Church of the Almighty God: what is China's 'demon-killing' cult?

A Chinese evangelicalist

Described as a 'plague on humankind', members of the sect are going on trial for a brutal murder

LAST UPDATED AT 15:23 ON Thu 21 Aug 2014

Five members of a Chinese cult have gone on trial today accused of the public murder of a woman in a fast food restaurant in May.

The group beat her to death in a branch of McDonald's in Shandong province after she turned down their request to convert to the Church of the Almighty God. One of her killers said "she was a demon, we had to destroy her", according to the BBC.

The sect is illegal in China and officials have called it a "social cancer and a plague on humankind", but what drives this violent, evangelical group? 

What is the Church of the Almighty God?

China's most radical cult is relatively new, founded just over two decades ago by Zhao Weishan, a former physics teacher who has since fled to the United States. The group describes the ruling Communist Party as a 'Red Dragon' that needs to be slain and all members are told they should be ready to "sacrifice their lives" at any moment.

The evangelical sect has some grounding in Christianity but believes that Jesus has risen as a 40-year old Chinese woman called Yang Xiangbin, co-incidentally the wife of its founder, who has returned to Earth to bring about the apocalypse.

Official estimates vary but the cult could have as many as million followers. One former member told the Daily Telegraph that the teachings are simple. "They just want you to repeat over and over that you obey 'God', listen to her, and not fight back. And there are threats for those who think of quitting."

Its members have been accused of shocking murders and mutilations of people who have refused to convert.

How do they recruit people?

Members often target Christians, luring them in with the idea of a shared belief system and the added promise of a more "direct" route to salvation. They often approach housewives and the most vulnerable in society and have been accused of using aggressive conversion tactics including intimidation, brainwashing, kidnapping and even seduction.

How is the government dealing with them?

The public outcry over the murder forced the state to take action with numerous raids and up to a 1,000 arrests since the incident.

How does China deal with religion in general?

China has a long, dark history of government crackdowns on religion. Even today, high level government interference in religion continues with "strict guidelines" of what is acceptable, according to the BBC's Carrie Gracie.

State-sponsored versions of each religion have forced millions to set up underground "house churches" where they can practice their beliefs. These unsanctioned churches are often raided by police and their organisers are arrested, something the Church of the Almighty God has used to their advantage in garnering support against the state. · 

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