As the Cold War wound down in the summer of 1989, Soviet social scientists looked with a combination of wonderment and bemusement on the nationalism percolating in China, where the gradual loosening of government control threatened at any time to spill over into revolution, as the protests at Tiananmen Square had proved. I tell you this because in July of that year, A. D. Dikaryov, writing in Narody Azii i Afriki (“Peoples of Asia and Africa”), recorded that the Chinese government and its scientists had tried to harness the power of nationalism to uncover a distinctively Chinese ancient astronaut theory. The American CIA found this sufficiently interesting to translate part of the article in their regular roundup of Soviet publications:
The thirst of the whole society for knowledge based on the economic reforms, takes in a number of cases the form of unofficial science. An example of such organizations is the scientific societies of UFO fanciers with corresponding periodicals as the review “Feidie Tansuo” (“Studies of Flying Saucers”). The efforts by Chinese scientists to find in ancient Chinese sources “historical evidences” of UFO existence are of particular interest for Sinologists and experts in science of science. The activities of adherents of this new scientific trend in China demonstrate methodology and tasks of the Chinese historical science in general.
The fact that China was actively pursuing the ancient astronaut theory with the acquiescence (if not the direct approval) of the government, and that both the Soviet and American governments were both aware of this and thought it worth noting, belies the contention that China is somehow “hiding” proof of ancient astronauts, as ancient astronaut theorist Jason Martell alleged in the lead up to this episode.
If anything, the Chinese would have welcomed such proof, according to the same U.S. and Soviet government records that Ancient Aliens routinely accuse of hiding alien secrets.
Perhaps the show is starting to wear out its welcome. Last week’s episode was down again in the ratings, bringing in only 1.05 million viewers.
We start in 2011, with the allegation by the elderly Sun Shili, a former Chinese government official (who served more than 40 years ago) and current head of a UFO organization, that the Chinese government is aware of the existence of UFOs and shape-shifting space aliens among us. The material that Shili relates sounds pretty much like the “unofficial science” the Soviets reported on in 1989, the kind of goofball fringe science that routinely overwhelms authoritarian governments. (The Soviets, for that matter, had their own ancient astronaut flap in the 1960s.) The various talking heads on Ancient Aliens all claim that China’s government is secretive and has hidden information about UFOs.
The narrator describes China as “this distant land” that fascinates Westerners, a tacit admission, I guess, that the show’s audience is parochial and American. Orientalism probably doesn’t play as well elsewhere in the world.
After this, the show repeats material about the Yellow Emperor that we’ve heard on several earlier episodes of the show, notably “Emperors, Kings, and Pharaohs.” As with that previous episode, the show purposely conflates the Yellow Emperor (the historicizing figure whom the ancient historian Sima Qian described in his first chapter as a human being born in China) with Shangdi, the old sky god. This is a modern interpretation and might even be correct, but it isn’t what the ancient texts specifically say. Based on this, the show alleges that the Chinese emperors were space aliens and that these aliens continue to serve in the Communist government.
The second segment provides a bad computer animation to illustrate a tall tale about a 10-foot-tall alien that a Chinese man claimed had abducted him. For some reason, the narrator thinks this is closely related to the archaeological discovery of the seemingly Caucasian Bronze Age mummies found in the vast western desert of China and known as the Tarim Mummies. David Wilcock claims that the mummies have non-human mitochondrial DNA. This appears to be a complete lie, since all of the scientific reports of the mitochondrial DNA of these mummies identify it as human and relate it to European, Asian, and Indian lineages.
The third segment discusses the burial mound of China’s first emperor, which is in the shape of a pyramid. They also discuss the circular platform-shaped Altar of Heaven, a Chinese religious structure, which various talking heads, including Erich von Däniken, relate to a circular structure in Peru that doesn’t really look much like it except that it is circular.
After this, the talking heads discuss an alleged ancient pyramid and metal pipes of Qinghai, which are a natural formation that they mistake for “some kind of base,” as David Childress puts it.
The fourth segment discusses Fuxian Lake, where ancient astronaut theorists believe that aliens had a lost city. Archaeological research using carbon dating dated the archaeological remains at the bottom of the lake to around 250 CE, but ancient astronaut theorists believe that it must date back before the Ice Age. The show then talks about UFO sightings in the region to suggest that there is an alien origin to the lost city, though strictly speaking even if we accept everything they claim about the city’s age at face value, it would not imply the presence of space aliens.
The fifth segment deals with the “floating city” seen over southern China in 2015, which experts and the Chinese government denounced as a photo-manipulated hoax. Jason Martell calls it a “large mothership” floating above the Earth. Thousands of people allegedly witnessed the phenomenon, but what they witnessed isn’t necessarily what the online video purports to show. The segment relates some other modern UFO sightings, which range from hearsay to hoaxes to natural phenomena. It’s rather touching that talking heads like Nick Redfern take the Chinese government at their word that they weren’t testing any missiles or aircraft during these UFO sightings—when at the top of the show they accused the Chinese of being secretive liars! The show also cites the Russian tabloid Pravda as their source for Chinese UFO beliefs, so rigor isn’t really their strong suit.
The final segment describes China’s efforts to build the largest radio telescope in the world, which will be used to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. One might assume that if the Chinese are already in contact with aliens, as the show alleged earlier, that they would not to go looking for the aliens. But that isn’t the case, apparently, and they spent tons of money to build a telescope to search for the aliens that the show tells us every few minutes are already here on Earth. The narrator tries to make logical sense of this by asking whether the telescope is really meant as a receiver to better hear the messages the ancient aliens have always been sending.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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