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2017-04-12 07:46:18  + video 

The Buddhist association of northern China’s Mount Wutai has denounced a video circulating online titled “A Mount Wutai Nun Getting Married.”

The shaved-headed men and women in the video were attending a social gathering of an “illegal marketing organization,” the statement on the association’s website said Sunday. They are allegedly involved in a Ponzi scheme that revolves around a virtual currency called “wuxingbi,” or “five phases money.”

Other videos circulating online show several young women who had wuxingbi written on their bare heads. According to Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, the women, who are not real nuns, shaved their heads as an advertising gimmick to attract buyers for the currency and earn around 30,000 yuan ($4,300) per month.

“In the future, everyone will use virtual currency to trade,” an online seller of wuxingbi told a Sixth Tone reporter who posed as a potential investor. “Wuxingbi’s value is increasing every day,” the seller said. “You have to make your purchasing decision as early as you can.”

Nefarious ‘nuns’ swindle people into buying coins that China’s state broadcaster says have no value.

According to an investment guideline sent to Sixth Tone, buying into wuxingbi can be done in three levels, which are priced at 500, 2,500, and 5,000 yuan. The document also encouraged current investors to find more people to invest in the currency, for which they would receive rewards. The last line of the guideline says that the currency was issued by the “world’s richest man,” Zhang Jian.

The seller said that Zhang also sold wuxingbi in the form of actual coins, and that these were also a good investment. The coins, weighing 10 grams each, are made of gold and bear a portrait of Zhang on one side. The other side shows one of the “five phases,” a concept from Taoism about how the interactions between water, fire, wood, earth, and metal explain natural phenomena.

Each gold coin has its own code and can be converted into virtual currency online. “They were 5,000 yuan each several days ago, but now they have increased to 7,000 yuan,” the seller said, adding that he believed the price would increase to 8,000 by May.

State broadcaster China Central Television called wuxingbi a Ponzi scheme on Saturday, saying that the money would not be accepted by the government and that it had no value. The currency was being sold through social media and chat apps, and the people responsible were operating from abroad, the broadcast added.

Chinese authorities are aware of the Ponzi scheme and have identified “Zhang Jian” as a pseudonym for Song Miqiu, originally from Heilongjiang, a province in northeastern China. In 2013, Song set up an earlier Ponzi scheme that reportedly tricked 190,000 people from all over China into forking over a total of 160 million yuan. Song is wanted by Chinese police but has reportedly fled to Thailand.

A similar scheme involving another virtual currency advertised as a can’t-miss investment opportunity came to national attention earlier this year. Chen Man, wrongfully imprisoned for nearly 23 years, had put 1 million yuan — more than a third of his compensation money from the government — into a Ponzi scheme.

Additional reporting: Zhou Yanyan; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A man with a handful of ‘wuxingbi’ coins. From the product’s website)