Summary: At the beginning of the new year, China is astir with sightings of otherworldly visitors and the sightings are treated with unexpected seriousness in a country led by no-nonsense communist officials. China has a bimonthly magazine - circulation 400,000 - devoted to UFO research. The conservative state-run media report UFO sightings.
The Associated Press
PUSALU VILLAGE, CHINA
Government pays attention to phenomena
Poor farmers in Beijing's barren hills saw it: an object swathed in coloured light arcing heavenward that some say must have been a UFO.
They're not alone. People in 12 other Chinese cities reported possible UFO sightings last month. UFO researchers, meanwhile, were busy looking into claims of an alien abduction in Beijing.
At the beginning of the new year, China is astir with sightings of otherworldly visitors and the sightings are treated with unexpected seriousness in a country led by no-nonsense communist officials. China has a bimonthly magazine - circulation 400,000 - devoted to UFO research. The conservative state-run media report UFO sightings. UFO buffs claim support from scientists and liaisons with the secretive military, giving their work a scientific sheen of respectability.
"Some of these sightings are real, some are fake and with others its unclear," said Shen Shituan, president of Beijing Aerospace University and honorary director of the China UFO Research Association. "All these phenomena are worth researching."
Research into UFOs will spur new forms of high-speed travel, unlimited sources of energy and faster-growing crops, claims Sun Shili, president of the government-approved association (membership 50,000).
A foreign trade expert and a Spanish translator for Mao Tse-tung, Sun saw a UFO nearly 30 years ago while at a labour camp for ideologically suspect officials. "It was extremely bright and not very big," said Sun. "At that time, I had no knowledge of UFOs. I thought it was a probe sent by the Soviet revisionists."
For thousands of years, Chinese have looked to the skies for portents of change on Earth. While China is passing through its first millennium using the West's Gregorian calendar, the traditional lunar calendar is ushering in the Year of the Dragon, regarded as time of tumultuous change.
"All of that sort of millennial fear and trepidation fits so nicely with Chinese cosmology - and also the Hollywood propaganda that everybody's been lapping up," said Geremie Barme, a Chinese culture watcher at Australia National University.
In Pusalu, a patch of struggling corn and bean farms 50 kilometres from Beijing, villagers believe cosmic forces were at play December 11. As they tell it, an object the size of a person shimmering with golden light moved slowly up into the sky from the surrounding arid mountains.
"It was so beautiful, sort of yellow," villager Wang Cunqiao said. "It was like someone flying up to heaven."
What "it" was remains a topic of debate. Many villagers are fervent Buddhists. But local leaders want to play down any religious overtones, fearing that government censure may spoil plans to attract tourism to Pusalu.
"The increase in flying saucer incidents is natural," said Chen Yanchun, a former Aerospace Ministry researcher with a PhD in aerodynamics. He cited more manmade aerospace activity and radio signals from Earth penetrating farther into space.
Sun has another theory: He believes aliens may find China attractive for the same reason foreign investors and tourists do. "It's very possible that relatively rapid development attracts investigations by flying saucers, and here in China we're becoming more developed," he said.