BEIJING - Candles and matches have almost sold out in two Southwest China counties following online rumors of a coming doomsday event that some believe will bring the end of the world.
Panic buying in Shuangliu and Longchang counties, both located in Sichuan province, was stirred by rumors of "three consecutive days of darkness after Dec 21."
The rumors have been widely spread via Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging site, becoming one of the site's ten most popular topics in recent days.
Local businesses and online vendors have picked up on the rumors, offering packages of supplies, self-help manuals and even beauty products for the end times.
The trending topic appears to be related to myths stating that a calendar used by the ancient Maya accurately predicts the end of the world, with many believing the event will occur in December 2012.
Such beliefs have spawned a cottage industry, despite having been debunked multiple times by archaeologists and other scientists.
Businessman Yang Zongfu, who hails from the city of Yiwu in East China's Jiangsu province, sought to capitalize on the craze four months ago, when he debuted his own version of "Noah's Ark."
Yang's invention, a large stainless-steel ball intended to shelter and protect survivors in the event of a world-ending event, sells for 1 to 5 million yuan ($160,300 to $800,150).
Yang said a businessman from North China's Shanxi province has purchased 15 of the devices, adding that he has also received orders from New Zealand.
The rumors have prompted some to make drastic decisions, much to the consternation of their loved ones. A woman surnamed Jiang, also from Jiangsu, recently mortgaged her property for 1.04 million yuan, although the property was previously valued at 3 million yuan.
Jiang said she expected to "donate the money to orphans and enjoy my life before doomsday."
Her husband, angered by his wife's decision, convinced her to get their apartment back.
Others have rushed to get married before the end of the world arrives. Marriage registry offices in the cities of Xi'an, Hefei, Guangzhou and Shanghai have filled their daily quota for marriage registrations for the date of December 21.
Science fiction author Wang Jinkang believes those convinced by the rumors would do well to focus more on the here and now, stating that they should be more wary of disasters caused by climate change, a possible shortage of freshwater and deadly pathogens.
"The rumors are a misinterpretation of the Maya calendar and are still going on," said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist for China's lunar orbiter project, adding that he believes December 21 will be a peaceful and safe day.
"The sun will still rise on Dec 21. All reactions to the doomsday prophecy show a strong recognition of the crisis of human existence. However, these reactions should be rooted in science," said Wang Sichao, an astronomer at the Nanjing Purple Mountain Observatory.
He explained that when the sun transforms from its current stable state into a red giant, its expansion will devour Earth, signaling the end for the human race and the very planet itself.
"However, that won't happen for another 5 billion years. At that time, humans will have to be able to find a new home," Wang Sichao said, adding that the best reaction to the rumors should be to cherish one's life and loved ones.