As the predicted end of days arrives today, Chinese people, from remote villages to megacities, have responded swiftly, both online and off. Some truly believe doomsday is nigh, while others are taking advantage of the widespread prophesy to step outside their daily routine and have fun.
Today is also the winter solstice, a day when many Chinese say the yin or cold, dark energy in the universe is at its peak, and the yang or warm, bright energy only begins to emerge. On this day, the boundary between this world and the spirit world is at its thinnest and portals are open. Traditionally, people are warned not to walk alone and not stay out late on the solstice. They should obey all rules such as burning paper money for ancestors that apply to other ghost-related days and the Qingming or Tomb Sweeping Festival in spring.
This year, as doomsday approaches, the winter solstice becomes a little creepier, and for quite a few people, a lot more fun.
"We are having the party of the year tonight, me and my friends," says 25-year-old sales manager Lam Liu from a private trading company. "Of course, we'll celebrate surviving the end of the world. And if it really hits tonight, then we can welcome it with drink and music.
"Of course, I don't really believe it, but won't it be fun? A doomsday party!"
People are buying T-shirts that say "Dance to the end of world," "Save the world" and "Ark tickets wanted."
Some people have used the upcoming apocalypse as an excuse for crimes, such as robberies to finance a last fling.
Others have playfully organized "escape teams," recruiting people with all kinds of skills necessary for the human race to survive.
Hundreds of thousands of emergency rescue kits and tins of food have been sold. The same thing happened after the Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2008, and the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011.
Many people are buying online "tickets" to Noah's Ark while some are building their own arks and emergency survival capsules. Some tickets depict boarding at Cho Ming in the Tibet Autonomous Region, the fictional boarding spot in the blockbuster "2012." The film has been very popular since it was shown in China three years ago.
"I don't really believe in doomsday, but I've saved an ark for myself," says 32-year-old businessman Yang Zongfu, who has manufactured escape spheres priced at 5 million yuan each (US$802,289).
Each steel pod called Noah's Arks is 6 meters in diameter and equipped with food and water for a year. Some made-to-order pods have television, fridge and Internet connections.
Yang, who lives in Zhejiang Province, tells Shanghai Daily in a telephone interview that nine businessmen have ordered 26 survival pods and he has completed 12, all built on-site and finished before doomsday, as customers demanded.
Yang is exceptionally enterprising, but his attitude toward the end of the world is typical of many Chinese who have been caught up in the fanfare over the apocalypse. More and more people are getting into the spirit and joining the end-of-the-world carnival, making and purchasing doomsday products.
Mostly, it's just for fun. But some preparation efforts can be serious, such as Yang's survival pods.
He spent two years designing and manufacturing them in Zhejiang's Yiwu City, a famous small-commodities manufacturing and trading center. He calls them Noah's Arks because "that is a symbol of human motivation and innovation when it comes to rescuing ourselves."
According to him, the durable pods can float, survive extreme weather and temperature, roll on the ground, and survive falls from high cliffs. They are also lined with silver fiber and impervious to nuclear radiation, he claims.
Yang himself tried out a pilot pod in August when he got inside and had it rolled down a 50-meter-high hill, over a stone barrier and into a pond. The six-ton ark was deeply dented but its hull was not compromised. Yang received a minor injury to his jaw during the buffeting and battering.
He celebrated the success and modified the ark significantly. The prototype pilot was 4 meters in diameter, the latest models are 6 meters. They are also stronger and more stable, made with thicker steel, more water cushioning between layers, and better springs.
But he is not the only Chinese Noah.
Liu Yuanqi, a farmer from a small village in Hebei Province, recently displayed his own spherical Noah's Arks, which sell for 300,000 yuan and are designed to carry 14 people, plus enough food and water for five months.
The pods are 4 meters in diameter and made with two layers of steel and plenty of insulation. A pilot model was not seriously damaged after a test collision with a truck at low speed. Like Yang, Liu got the idea from large-scale disasters in the past five years. After watching the disaster film "2012" (2010) he was determined.
Also like Yang, Liu scoffs at the apocalypse. "I'm not obsessed with doomsday, but it is necessary to protect ourselves against disasters, as in that film," Yang says in a recent newspaper interview.
"As head of the family, I want to do something for my wife and children when we face catastrophes."
Seventy-two-year-old Lin Yaohao in Shanghai feels the same family responsibility even though his wife and children think he is going too far. He has purchased a year's emergency supply of food for all 20 family members around the world.
"It's not like I truly believe in doomsday, but what if it really happens, or something happens? It might not necessarily be the end of days, but maybe some disasters will happen and we might run out of food or water, like last March in Japan," Lin tells Shanghai Daily. He referred to the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan.
In Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, a retired engineer, is so convinced that the world will end that she donated all the family savings to homeless children, without telling her husband. She even borrowed money from friends and relatives, also for donation, and promised to pay it back by December 25, which she believes will never arrive. She says she wants to provide just a few days of fun to these children before the world ends.
In Zhejiang, two men quit their jobs at a car factory and decided to go on a robbery spree, enjoying some good times before the world ends. They committed 12 robberies in two months and were recently arrested, telling police that with doomsday approaching figured they might as well have fun.
A poll by Shanghai Daily
Today, December 21, is said by some people to be the end of the world and beginning of a new age, according to the Mayan calendar. What are your plans for doomsday?