Dear readers, this is probably the last story I write for you as it is predicted the world will end on Friday. But if you don't see any planes falling from the sky or computer systems crashing, the planet is probably just fine. So please continue reading.
Most scientists agree our planet will be consumed by the sun one day, but only in a few billion years. That obviously does not stop some people repeatedly predicting that the world is about to end, either back in 2000 at the turn of the millennium or Friday, according to an ancient and misinterpreted Mayan prophecy.
Doomsday prophecies have been popular among some Chinese people whose lives are tinged with all manner of superstitions. The fear is seen as a chance for one religious cult in particular to launch a holy war against the Communist Party of China.
The cult, which worships an "Almighty God," is known as "Oriental Lightning" or "Authentic God" and is calling for its followers to engage in a holy war against the "big red dragon," a reference to the Party, while unbelievers will be killed by lightning on doomsday.
"They believe that work, making money or being in a relationship are all boring and pointless," said Xia, a 30-year-old man whose ex-wife is a member of the cult.
"She used to be a very lovely and fun person, but the cult made her cold, aloof and disinterested," he added.
Tearing families apart
Now thinking back, Xia greatly regrets not loving his wife enough. "Maybe if I had cared more about her, she would probably not turn to the cult."
It was 2008 when he discovered she had been leading a double-life, lying to him and her boss about her whereabouts.
She often disappeared at weekends or would bring home complete strangers to visit. The members of the cult are reportedly banned from having mobile phones and are not allowed to gather in groups of more than seven to avoid attracting extra attention.
One day Xia returned home early to find her surrounded by books about the "Almighty God." "I asked her why she was doing this, she told me the world would end and only the believers could survive," he recalled.
Gradually, he found her daily routine was changing. She would pray in the morning and then attend cult meetings in the afternoon and evening.
2009 was a difficult year for the family as Xia's father found out he had cancer. "She didn't seem to care at all, she said she had more important things to do." The couple eventually got divorced in 2010 and Xia lost contact with his ex-wife.
The cult, an offshoot of an unorthodox Christian sect, emerged in Central China's Henan Province in the early 1990s before spreading to north and northwest parts of the country, and is currently present nationwide.
The "Almighty God" is reportedly embodied in the form of an Asian woman, who will allegedly arrive in China and carry out a "trial" of all human beings.
Xia is not alone. Many people who have lost their loved ones to the cult have posted their stories on an anti-"Almighty God" website and seek to expose its lies.
It is unknown how many believers the cult has nationwide but around 1,000 members have been arrested by police this month for spreading doomsday rumors.
Li Anping, deputy secretary general of the China Anti-Cult Association, told the Global Times that 2012 has seen the most exposures of religious cults such as this one.
"People with little education from the countryside are more likely to become followers of cults. The biggest part of our job this year is to deny lies about doomsday."
China officially recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.
Generally speaking, China is not a religious country, yet more and more people feel a need to believe in religion. A 2007 survey showed that about 300 million people aged over 16 in China held religious beliefs.
Qiao Xinsheng, a professor at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, calls for more attention to be given to people's spiritual needs to prevent them from turning toward cults.
"China is facing a major transition period after decades of development but its spiritual development is still 'under construction.' Some people who are anxiously looking for spiritual guidance might lose themselves to religious cults," Qiao told the Global Times.
California preacher Harold Camping once predicted that Judgment Day would occur on September 6, 1994. As you may have noticed, the world ended up being just fine.
He again predicted that all life would be wiped out during the rapture on May 21, 2011. Sorry, Harold, better luck next time.
Then on October 21, 2011, he predicted that the righteous would fly up to heaven while five months of fire and plagues would beleaguer all other humans…again.
Now he says he has stopped trying to predict global doom and asks for forgiveness for his sins. "We humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing," he wrote.
Even a Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun who is tired of being bombarded with doomsday questions, insists that time will not "run out" on Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Still, many people around the world believe this day will come eventually.
About 15 percent of people globally believe the world will end during their lifetime, and 10 percent think it will happen on Friday, according to a new poll conducted by Ipsos Global Public Affairs.
Among these 10 percent that were scared or anxious about doomsday, some of the greatest numbers were found in Russia, where several reports have emerged of unusual behavior, including inmates in a women's prison near the Chinese border reportedly experiencing a "collective mass psychosis."
However, the poll showed that among 16,262 people from 21 countries surveyed, China's fear of doomsday was the highest. One out of every five respondents from China believe the world is about to end on Friday.
Panic buying of candles and food was seen in supermarkets and groceries in Sichuan after rumors circulated that a three-day blackout would strike Friday, with even some government officials joining the lines.
Lu Jiehua, a sociology professor at Peking University, told the Global Times earlier that this paranoia reflects a general anxiety running through Chinese society.
"This panic buying not only shows people's fear of an impending apocalypse, but also reflects their sense of uncertainty toward life and society in general," he said.
Xia agrees. He believes the reason he lost his ex-wife to the cult is because she had difficulties adjusting to life after college and was worried about her future.
Enough is enough
Last week, police decided to put an end to the doomsday talk. Chongqing police warned those spreading rumors about doomsday would face criminal charges for disrupting social stability.
Scientists also assured the public that the world would not end on Friday. Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's lunar orbiter project, told the media that Friday would be just "another ordinary day."
Superstitions are seen across China with fortune-telling popular for many Chinese children, but apocalypse predictions have been few and far between.
Fang Zhouzi, a blogger famous for battling against what he sees as pseudoscience and academic misconducts, told the Global Times that he believes it is useless to try and calm people down or talk them out of panic buying. "The only thing to do is to not take advantage of them," he said.
Li also blames the media, saying "it is the 2009 Hollywood disaster movie 2012 that triggered the wave of paranoia in China."
The 3D version of 2012 hit Chinese screens in November this year and viewers once again turned out to see a plot where the Chinese military would build giant arks to save the humanity.
With no compelling evidence that the Chinese military is preparing to save the human race, some individuals have decided to make their own contributions before it is too late.
A man in Xinjiang spent his life savings to build an ark for 20 people. The project began in 2010, but he reportedly ran out of money before completion.
Science vs. mysticism
In a country where many people engaged in a panic buying of salt to help prevent radiation illness during Japan's nuclear crisis last year, Fang said he believes scientific awareness is the key to the solution.
"Even after the world doesn't end on December 21, those who do not believe in science will still not believe in science," he said.
Anti-cult associations are now promoting a documentary exposing the lies of religious cults and it is soon to run nationwide on television, according to Li.
Some are gambling on something else extraordinary to happen on Friday, such as first contact with aliens.
Zhang Jingping, director of the investigation department of the World Chinese UFO Association who has been studying the Mayan calendar for years, will perform a Mayan ritual to welcome the possible arrival of aliens in Hunan Province Friday.
"According to my research on Mayan calendar, it says when the sun rises in the same spot where the bright center of the galaxy sets, aliens will visit the earth," he told the Global Times.
Without knowing the exact location, Zhang and some other UFO believers will create a fire and burn crops in the hope of attracting alien visitors.
"If they come to China they would surely come to us. There is only one place in China where people are performing such a ritual, they can't miss it," he said.
However the aliens look, they can't be stranger than some of us.