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State media reported last week that police detained more than 1,000 members of the heretical sect Eastern Lightning in several provinces and warned that the group has been preaching and leafleting about an impending apocalypse.

The group believes that Christ has been reborn, this time as a woman in China. The Huashang website reported that in Shaanxi province, the group is urging followers to “exterminate the great red dragon” — a reference to the Communist Party — “and found a country under the rule of Almighty God.”

Mr. Gong’s South China Church was rooted more firmly in the evangelical tradition that took off in the United States over the past 100 years and has spread worldwide. His grandmother was converted by Christian missionaries. Gong Dali started preaching as a teenager, taking the name Shengliang, which means “holy light.”

Key to his South China Church’s success was Mr. Gong’s effectiveness in training a corps of preachers to attract more converts. Followers built halls large enough to hold 500 people, conspicuous structures for a forbidden group.