At least four major Chinese cities are seeing runs on canned peaches and firecrackers as rumors spread that angry gods are planning to steal local children.
After a 4.8-magnitude earthquake struck the northern Chinese city of Tangshan on May 28, word began to circulate that a certain holy temple or pagoda had been destroyed — awakening vengeful spirits that would roam the country. Locals in the city of Cangzhou, about 150 miles (240 km) away, reportedly began the rumor that only peaches and firecrackers could keep the spirits at bay.
The Shanghai Daily explains the rationale:
As a result, ancient Chinese gods would be emerging from the ruins and take young boys and girls from their families, the rumor said. The only way to prevent this was to set off firecrackers and eat yellow peaches.
According to Chinese tradition, setting off firecrackers drives away evil spirits, while taozi, the Chinese word for peaches, sounds the same as “boy escaping” in Chinese.
Although the government of Hebei province, where both Tangshan and Cangzhou are located, announced that all its temples were fine, the rumor still spread quickly online.
“A lot of people have thronged to supermarkets to buy canned peaches, which sold like lightning,” a Hebei resident told local news portal Hebei.com.cn.
“Loud bangs can be heard from every direction at night. It’s like they are celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year,” a Beijing resident surnamed Wu complained to the Shanghai Daily.
Chinese state media were quick to blame the rumors on the prevalence of superstition and the shortcomings of the country’s education system. “The issue has exposed a laggard face of China,” Xinhua sniffed. “Despite the economic boom and the spread of education, some Chinese people still sorely lack common sense, not to mention the spirit of science.”