XINING, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) -- More than 600 members of the "Almighty God" cult across China have been detained for spreading rumors of an impending apocalypse on Dec. 21.
The cult, established in 1990 in central China's Henan Province, has promised salvation to those who join before "doomsday."
Most of the cult members apprehended by police were detained for 5 to 10 days for disturbing social order, in accordance with the Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Administrative Penalties for Public Security.
Police have detained more than 400 "Almighty God" cult members in northwest China's Qinghai Province. A large number of leaflets, banners, computer discs, slogans, books and printing machines were seized by police.
"Advice before catastrophe: Satan's men will be extinct. Only the 'Almighty God' can save man. Anybody who resists God will go to hell," reads one leaflet.
In east China's Zhejiang Province, police have detained 58 cult members in Lanxi City. The members, aged 18 to 58, were apprehended for spreading rumors and proselytizing.
"The cult is different from other religions. They spread doomsday rumors," said Cao Wei, a police officer with the Shanghua police station of Lanxi City.
Cult members ask new believers to write letters of assurance to show their loyalty to the "Almighty God" and to evangelize, Cao said.
"I must preach to 100 people today, or I will be cursed," according to a letter written by one member.
A total of 42 "Almighty God" cult members in Luzhou City of southwest China's Sichuan Province and 27 in Foshan City of south China's Guangdong Province have been detained by police this month for spreading doomsday rumors, according to local public security departments.
The public security department of southwest China's Guizhou Province announced Wednesday that it had detained 141 "Almighty God" cult members by Tuesday.
Zhang Xue preached to her family members in order to "save them."
She told them that disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, pestilence, plane crashes and environmental degradation are the punishments the "Almighty God" metes out to human beings.
Only by converting to the "Almighty God" cult can they be saved, she said.
Her younger brother ignored her ideas, but her younger female cousin was scared and joined the sect.
Most of the cult's members are unemployed people in urban areas or low-income groups hit by illness or disaster. People in their 40s make up the majority, said Ma Qiang, head of the anti-cult reconnaissance team with the Qinghai provincial public security department.
The cult operates as a secret underground organization, and it is much like a pyramid scheme in which one member generates two or three referrals who join the cult, Ma said.
They refer to each other using cryptic names instead of their real names, he added.
The sect, sometimes known as "Eastern Lightning," claims to be an offshoot of Christianity, but would be barely recognizable to Western Christians. Founded in 1990 in central China's Henan Province, it states that Jesus has been resurrected as a Chinese woman.
Mainstream religions and critics have criticized the "Almighty God" cult for using rumors to confuse people and to coerce others to join the cult. Some members have also been involved in blackmail cases.
Four "Almighty God" cult members were detained in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region for swindling elderly people in the remote Arxan mountain area. They proclaimed that only by believing in the "Almighty God" could they survive doomsday.
"There are no records and explanations of doomsday in Christian doctrines, which differentiates Christianity from the cult," said Tong Ping'an, head of the Qinghai provincial Christianity Association.
The "female Jesus" and "Great Red Dragon," concepts that have been used to convert people to the cult, distort the Bible, cause panic and disrupt the normal religious order, Tong said.
The 2012 apocalypse has long been a popular topic around the world, and some people are scared. The "Almighty God" cult has taken advantage of people's fears and superstitions to sell them fallacies, said Wu Boxin, a criminal psychology expert with the People's Public Security University of China.
The cult intimidates those who try to break away. "If you divorce from the sect, you will be killed by lightning, the sect would warn," said Wu, who has taken part in the investigations of a series of "Almighty God"-related cases.
The "Almighty God" cult will not disappear after the so-called apocalypse on Dec. 21, as their guiding principle is to battle the "Great Red Dragon," a euphemism for the Communist Party of China, and set up a country run by the "Almighty God," Wu said.
The government should crack down on the cult and help address the plight of the poor, as the cult depends on them for survival, he said.