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Even in China’s ultra-modern metropolises many families still take their infant child to a fortune-teller for their “one-year-old grab” ceremony to determine what they will grow up to be. An array of objects such as toy guns, pens, toy aeroplanes and calculators are spread before the child and whatever they reach for and play with is deemed to represent their future profession.

Sensing an opportunity, a company in north-west China set up a “palm and finger reading” programme for kindergarten pupils that it claimed could predict toddlers’ intelligence level and future job potential.

The test involved taking ink prints of a child’s palms and fingers, running the scanned prints through a computer for analysis and then pronouncing a verdict on the child’s “genetic intelligence and development potential” as well as a recommendation on his or her “best development trend”. Each test costs Rmb1,200 (almost $200) and until recently was being recommended as an entrance exam at numerous kindergartens in Shanxi Province.

The province banned palm reading at kindergartens last week after it emerged that the company offering the tests had been “training” principals of kindergartens for a fee and then certifying them as “Palm Reading Consultation Professionals”.

It turns out that the “new technology” was first introduced in Beijing a few years ago and quickly became discredited. It also emerged that the company offering the tests and training to principals through this superstitious quasi-pyramid scheme was closely affiliated with a provincial-level government-run “scientific education fund”.

The company management insisted its test was “very scientific” and the kindergarten principals swore they had no conflict of interest – but promoters of this revolutionary technology will now have to find another part of China to sell it in.

Classical education

Not far from where the palm-reading principals plied their trade, another group of educators in the ancient city of Xi’an have also become embroiled in scandal.

In front of the library of Modern College at Northwestern University two large statues have been built in the form of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom and courage, and Nu Wa, an ancient Chinese goddess known for creating mankind and repairing the wall of heaven. But on closer inspection, admirers have discovered that their faces are carved to resemble two officials on the college board of directors – a Mrs Li instead of Nu Wa and a Mrs Guo’s features instead of Athena’s comely visage.

The plinth even had an inscription lionising Mrs Guo/Athena as founder of the college and praising her for procuring the land to build it.

This heady homage is one reason the statues have caused such an outcry on the Chinese internet and even in state-controlled media.

All land in China is technically owned by the state and land sales are tightly controlled by local government officials, providing huge opportunities for corruption. Land transfers also tend to involve the uprooting and relocation of peasant farmers, sometimes through the use of intimidation and violence.

The suggestion that Ms Guo was instrumental in procuring the land has prompted ridicule from many Chinese citizens who point out that Athena is also traditionally the goddess of civilisation, law and justice. The college and university have responded by saying the two statues are works of great artistic merit – but they have also quietly removed the inscriptions.

The Mao revival

It seems the Chinese penchant for statue-building and idol worship has been proliferating, as nostalgic residents set up shrines to the late Communist dictator Mao Zedong.

Officially revered in his lifetime but now reviled by many Chinese, Mao has lain since 1976 in a glass case inside an imposing mausoleum in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

But it is only recently that whole temples have sprung up around the country, complete with Buddha-like effigies and incense holders for worshippers to come and kowtow.

The image of Mao-cult revivalists coming to pray in their western clothes and nouveau-riche trappings would probably have disgusted the old Communist guerrilla.

After all, it was in the name of fighting revisionism, capitalism and the evils of religion that he launched his countless purges and waves of vicious political persecution.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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