Billionaires, movie stars, snakes and curses all figure in a scandal swirling around a Chinese spiritual adviser after he allegedly threatened a reporter who questioned his powers with death.
Wang Lin (王林), 61, a self-proclaimed master of qigong, a spiritual art, claims to be able to conjure up snakes from thin air, cure disease and retrieve an incinerated banknote intact from an orange.
He came to public attention in recent weeks when he was reportedly visited by Jack Ma (馬雲), the founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, for reasons unknown.
Pictures soon circulated on Chinese social media of Wang with former Chinese minister of railways Liu Zhijun (劉志軍), convicted earlier this month of corruption and given a suspended death sentence, martial arts star Jet Li (李連杰) and various senior officials.
The Beijing News ran an interview with Wang on Monday, saying that he claimed to have been assessed continuously by a team of 17 Japanese scientists for seven days and nights.
US intelligence agencies offered him 70 green cards to try to persuade him to emigrate, he said, but he rejected the offer because he “could not tear himself from his home town” in the eastern province of Jiangxi, the paper reported.
Wang claimed to have cured many patients, including former Indonesian president Suharto, the newspaper said, adding that he had made a fortune from his admirers.
He owns a five-story villa and keeps a Rolls-Royce and three Hummers, the report said.
However, the paper questioned his powers, suggesting he had mastered sleight of hand rather than the supernatural.
Wang had been spotted buying snakes rather than summoning them with his spirit, it added, and accused him of building up his wealth through networking with influential people and illegal moneylending.
The allegations infuriated Wang, so much so that he telephoned the author to curse her.
“I am telling you, you will die miserably, and your family will follow,” the Beijing News quoted him as saying in a follow-up article.
Despite three decades of rapid modernization in China, many people — particularly the elderly and residents of poorer rural provinces such as Jiangxi — still cling to traditional beliefs and superstitions.
In 2011, a woman in the province killed her infant grandson by tossing him into a well after a fortune-teller told her the child’s zodiac sign would bring ruin to the family.
China’s Internet users this week poured scorn on Wang.
“How come Master Wang Lin could not predict that Jack Ma’s visit would be a disaster?” said one posting on the microblogging site Sina Weibo.