Death of a venture capitalist in Beijing after a Legacy course evidences the CCP’s idiosyncratic approach to the question of the xie jiao
by Zhao Zhangyong
On August 14, 2021, a 32-year-old woman was admitted to the emergency ward of Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital. Doctors learned that she had collapsed in class during a particularly demanding course. Her name was Wei Meng, or Sara Wei, as she was known in her California office. She had joined in 2014 the venture capital investment firm DCM, based in Menlo Park, California, Beijing, and Tokyo. She had just become principal of the firm at the beginning of this year.
Her heart was compromised. Despite the doctors’ efforts, Wei Meng passed away in Chaoyang Hospital on August 17, 2021.
But what did exactly happen to Wei Meng? What course was so demanding that she collapsed? Slowly, Chinese media and netizens put the story together. Wei was participating in a course called Legacy, organized by a company called Chengquan Culture, popular among wealthy Chinese (reportedly, one course costs some U.S. $10,000). During Legacy, participants are encouraged to discover negative aspects of their lives, and are screamed at by instructors and other participants, until they get rid of the negativity and learn to take control of parts of their lives they had not been able to manage before, or had not even identified as problematic.
Wei was screamed at for privileging her work over her two children. The experience was so painful that she collapsed, and never recovered.
Apart from the sadness for the loss of the young life of a brilliant woman, an interesting part of the story is that Legacy is freely operating from years in China, and has escaped so far all crackdowns on greedy private training courses and xie jiao, i.e., banned spiritual or religious teachings whose dissemination is regarded as a crime.
This shows that the attitude of the CCP to xie jiao is somewhat idiosyncratic. If they do not criticize the Party, and cater to the rich and the famous, groups that in other countries are targeted as “cults” are largely left alone in China. Only after Wei died, voices were heard that Legacy is a xie jiao and practices “mind control” or “brainwashing,” which may or may not lead to official action.
What eluded the Chinese media that commented on Legacy is that neither the method nor the name originated in China. The name Legacy was used for courses by Lifespring, a human potential group founded in the United States in 1974. Its founders had been part of Mind Dynamics, which in turn had been founded by Alexander Everett, formerly a member of the group called Silva Mind Control. Lifespring was disbanded in the 1990s, having collapsed under the weight of multiple litigations that followed incidents similar to Wei Meng’s. However, Lifespring techniques continued to be spread by a number of similar organizations.
Western scholars and critics have variously regarded the groups that are part of the genealogy leading to Legacy as human potential movements, New Age groups, or “cults.”
We are not suggesting that groups promoting ideas and offering courses on how to confront troubled past experiences are banned in China, or everywhere else, unless they prove hazardous to the physical health of their participants. We also note that Wei’s husband is strongly arguing that Legacy was not responsible for his wife’s death. What we are noticing, however, is that candidates to the label xie jiao are capriciously identified in China. Even in this field, the CCP punishes the weak and protects the strong.