Top Chinese Officials Defy Rules and Secretly Consult Fortune Tellers

Government officials get businessmen to pay for their consultants.

ByABC News
June 11, 2013, 6:19 PM

BEIJING June 17, 2013— -- When China's former railway minister tearfully confessed to corruption last week, his crimes included raking in $10.5 million in bribes -- and believing in superstition.

The initial indictment against Liu Zhijun, who was overseeing construction of the world's largest high-speed rail network, included the accusation that he consulted a fengshui master to choose auspicious dates for breaking ground on construction projects.

It is a crime that has survived the harshest crackdown of the Cultural Revolution when Chinese superstitions were listed among "The Four Olds" -- old customs, culture, habits and ideas -- that were to be wiped out.

The Chinese government is making a renewed push to tamp down the old superstitions, but they are thriving among the general population as well among top level government officials.

That those beliefs -- fortune telling, geomancy, numerology, fengshui -- are still flourishing is obvious.

In Chinese, the number eight sounds similar to the character which means to strike it rich. In 2004 the telephone number 88888888 was sold to Sichuan Airlines for the price of 2.3 million RMB, or about $375,000.

License plates with numbers ending in 666 or 999 all belong to high-ranking officials because the number six sounds like the word meaning "smooth," and nine sounds like the word for "everlasting."

On a Friday morning, hundreds of stores around the Lama Temple in central Beijing display signs that promise help in "guiding your future, changing your fate," or similar slogans. Fortune tellers with yin-yang symbols sit on stools awaiting customers. Monks claiming to have come down from their sacred mountain retreats wander around offering private ceremonies which can cost thousands of dollars.

One fortune teller, Master Liu Yixin, plays card games on his laptop computer while waiting for customers in the one square meter stall he rents. His rotund belly and bright red Chinese traditional shirt seem to take up most of the room.

Master Liu has been a fortune teller for more than three decades, since right after the Cultural Revolution.

"After the Cultural Revolution, business was difficult, and fortune telling was not allowed by the government," he told ABC News. "I was an underground fortune teller and had to sneak around until the 1990s. My business got much better as China's economy prospered," Liu said.