In China, Sightings Out of This World

Newsday. (Combined editions).

Long Island, N.Y.: Jan 2, 2000. pg. A.12


Pusalu, China - Poor farmers in Beijing's barren hills saw it: an object swathed in colored 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 dawn of the 2000s, China is astir with sightings of otherworldly visitors. Such sightings are treated with unexpected seriousness in this country usually straight jacketed by its communist rulers.

"Some of these sightings are real, some are fake and with others it's unclear," said Shen Shituan, a rocket scientist, president of Beijing Aerospace University and honorary director of the China UFO Research Association.

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 about to usher in the Year of the Dragon, regarded as a time of tumultuous change.

In Pusalu, a patch of struggling corn and bean farms 30 miles from Beijing, villagers believe cosmic forces were at play on Dec. 11. As they tell it, an object the size of a person shimmering with golden light moved slowly into the sky.

"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 play down religious overtones, fearing government censure may spoil plans to attract tourism to Pusalu.

State media ignored religious interpretations and labeled the celestial events in Pusalu, Beijing, Shanghai and 10 other cities in December as possible UFOs. But UFO researchers largely dismiss the sightings as airplane trails catching the low sun.

"If the military didn't chase it, it's because they knew it wasn't a UFO. They were probably testing a new aircraft," said Chen Yanchun, a shipping company executive who helps manage the China UFO Research Resource Center, which has accounts that the military scrambled planes in 1998 in an unsuccessful pursuit of a UFO.