Gansu Provincial Museum, Lanzhou, China

We are in Lanzhou, China, where the guide book says there is not much to see. Lanzhou is said to be the city with the highest air pollution in the world — but I suspect other cities have surpassed Lanzhou because other cities have cars, mountains, and factories — certainly there are worse places than Lanzhou.

The guide book says that the most popular tourist destination is the Gansu Provincial Museum.

Our directions for the taxi driver turned out to be poor, even though I carefully copied the Chinese symbols — we had to take a second taxi. The problem was that I copied directions from two different sources and the two sets of directions did not coincide, for some reason.

We finally arrived and were required to show our passports in order to get free entry tickets.


We started off looking at the Chinese Revolution dioramas — the heroic Comminists prevailed in 1949. The capture of Lanzhou was a great victory (I suspect the image pertains to Xi’an — I’m not sure about this).


There was no text in English but the local troops were extremely brave, it seems, and capturing the Lanzhou Iron Bridge, the first bridge to span the Yellow River (an important landmark and symbol of the city), brought the battle to its glorious conclusion.


There were pre-historic fossil remains of large animals.


The pre-historic mastodon was impressive.


Paleolithic humans left stone tools behind. I am interested in human evolution and the genetic factors that pertain to religion. How did genes related to religion become prevalent? I became interested in this question as a result of research I conducted in China in 1986.

Lanzhou has changed markedly since my visit in 1986.

In those days, everyone wore “Mao-clothes” — it was a time when Capitalist private enterprise was first allowed. In Lanzhou, I talked with a university professor who had done research in psychic phenomena. He had tested peoples’ extrasensory ability. His results were not very conclusive — those he tested had not shown much extrasensory ability, but other researchers, in Beijing, had been very successful in verifying ESP. Later, I spoke with them. They told many astonishing stories. Eventually, the Chinese military became interested in psychic abilities and took over the study of psychic phenomena, classifying their research as secret.


The museum had exhibits showing Buddhist art within a historical context.
There are important Buddhist caves outside of Lanzhou and Buddhist sculptures from these caves were exhibed.


Buddhist monks traveled to China along the Silk Road, arriving in the Lanzhou area by the 1st or 2nd centuries CE. The museum stated that this process involved the elite and later Ghengis Khan supported Buddhism — the museum had a Communist orientation, portraying Buddhism from the perspective of non-believers. Buddhism was practiced along-side Taoism, the religion that originated with Lao tsu.


The Gansu Provincial Museum exhibits some important archeological finds such as the Flying Horse of Gansu (1st century CE). The horse is running but one hoof stands on a flying bird, whose head is turned, acknowledging the horse’s weight. The horse’s head is also slightly turned in the direction of the bird, signifying the horse’s awareness of the bird. This image has become the symbol of the Gansu Region.

The museum has exhibits pertaining to Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetans believe that turning these wheels sends prayers toward heaven.

During my visit to Lanzhou in 1986, I interviewed a Taoist Chi-gong master who worked in the local hospitals in an official capacity as a spiritual healer. The 80-year-old man still rode his bicycle to work. He told me that, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when religious practice was prohibited, he meditated continually, doing a breathing exercise in which he followed his breath by visualizing it flowing in a circular manner – out of his mouth, down to his belly, up through his lungs, and then out of his mouth. “I visited beautiful ladies in the high spiritual realms,” he said with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. “No one knew what I was doing so they could not stop me. The ladies were very friendly and beautiful.”


In the museum, there were exhibits of relics left by Nestorian Christians of ages past. These Christians combined elements of Taoism, Buddhism, and Christianity within their religious practice.


The archeologists discovered crosses, left by the Nestorians.


It snowed as we left the museum.

Chinese cities are filled with buildings under construction. Real estate prices are falling and it seems that economic activity is slowing down. The previous pace had been astonishingly rapid, a rate that could not be sustained.

During my visit to China in 1986, people had fresh memories of the Cultural Revolution. Most intellectuals (such as the professors I encountered during my visit) has been imprisoned in their houses by the Revolutionary Guards. This situation lasted for about a year and a half. Afterwards, they were taken to the country-side and asigned to hard labor. This lasted for about eight and a half years.

Because all religious practices were prohibited, most children and college students in 1986 were not very religious. I was curious about the percentage who had unusual or religious experiences such as extrasensory perceptions, apparitions, paranormal dreams, out-of-body experiences, or other paranormal experiences. Many scholars assume that these perceptions are cultural products, like dreams and visions. Are all anomalous experiences products of culture or are they perecptions that reflect a hidden way of seeing, something genetically-based?

In 1986, I surveyed the academics who came to the presentation that I gave at Lanzhou University and found that a large percentage, about two-thirds, reported extremely anomalous experiences. I conducted a formal survey of random samples of college students at three Chinese universities and found similar results: a large percentage, over two thirds, reported extrasensory perceptions, paranormal dreams, out-of-body experiences, or other anomalous events. The types of unusual experiences that Chinese students reported had common elements with equivalent reports all over the world. This implied genetic basis.

I hypothesize that these episodes give rise to beliefs regarding spirits, souls, life after death, and magical abilities.

I have found that the propensity to experience these episodes is correlated with dissociative ability and that this capacity is triggered by both support during childhood and/or trauma or abuse during childhood. During the Cultural Revolution, many Chinese children suffered separation from their parents and witnessed public torture and executions. Perhaps this explains the college students’ high rates of anomalous experiences. The Buddha revealed a parallel propensity. He was disturbed by seeing sickness and death and decided to make his inner journey to enlightenment as a result. It is like the shaman’s path, a journey inward that many are called to follow.

Trauma and struggle motivate people to seek solutions on the inner path and psychic phenomena are sign posts along the inner path.

[For more information about these studies, Google “James McClenon,” “Wondrous Healing,” or “Wondrous Events.”

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