By Zhang Qian
While research into UFOs in China only got serious in the late 1970s, there are records dating back thousands of years suggesting people have always seen strange things in the sky.
IT might have been 37 years ago, but Lou Zhongrong still clearly remembers the day he first saw an unidentified flying object - a UFO.
"I witnessed a UFO incident with my own eyes in Hubei Province in 1971," says Lou, who was then serving in the national air force near Laohekou City in Hubei at the time.
While he was watching an outdoor movie, a spiral-shaped shiny object moving in the sky caught his eyes.
"It moved from south to north for about one minute then suddenly disappeared," recalls Lou. "I know planes. The flight profile of the shiny object was definitely not a plane. And it was not an illusion because many of my comrades-in-arms saw it too."
Witnesses in other nearby provinces also reported seeing the same strange phenomenon.
So what was the shiny object? Lou could not figure it out and neither could all the other witnesses and scientists at the time. Most of them let the incident pass, but not Lou. It was the beginning of an obsession leading him to become one of the earliest amateurs in Shanghai devoted to UFO research.
Today, 59-year-old Lou is deputy director of the Shanghai UFO Research Center, and his quest continues to learn the truth.
And he is not alone. Many people the world over are curious about whether humans are the smartest, most advanced creatures in the universe. Or, given the infinite size of the universe, if there are other smarter beings out there.
Many believe not only there are "aliens" but that those beings must be extremely advanced if the objects seen in the sky are anything to go by.
UFOs have been puzzling people worldwide for centuries and China is no exception.
Records thousands of years old refer to "flying carriages," "flame dragons" or "flaming balls." The words appeared in ancient Chinese books such as "Zhuang Zi," a philosophy book on Taoism written in about 300 BC by Chuang-tze "Shan Hai Jing" ("Classic of the Mountains and Seas"), a book on ancient Chinese geography before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) and "Meng Xi Bi Tan" ("Dream Pool Essays")written by Shen Kuo in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
However, in spite of such references, modern research into UFO sightings in China did not start in earnest until the late 1970s. When Lou retired from the military and started working at the Shanghai Airplane Institute, he also started his own UFO research. His access to abundant aeronautical information certainly aided his work.
He quickly made friends with other people also interested in UFOs and in 1979 a professor from Shanghai Jiao Tong University organized a group to hold regular seminars for the amateurs to discuss or debate the subject.
That group was the precursor to the Shanghai UFO Research Center. Lou's friend and colleague, Wu Jialu, joined the group on Lou's recommendation and the 66-year-old Wu has served as director of the center since his retirement.
Many people mistake UFO research as a search for aliens like ET of Hollywood fame, but that's not true, says Wu.
"UFO actually refers to a flying phenomenon that cannot be explained in a scientific way yet," says Wu. "It is not necessarily about aliens visiting Earth."
He says that although he also believes there might be creatures as smart as or even smarter than humans in the universe, as Earth is just one planet in the universe, no evidence has ever been found to prove other life exists.
"I can understand people's passion about finding other creatures in the universe, but it is not the goal of our research," says Wu.
Since its foundation, the research center has aimed to find reasonable explanations for various UFO incidents through a scientific approach.
Members keep alert for any reports on UFO sightings in China and try to analyze each phenomenon either individually or in seminars. They exchange ideas either by e-mail or in face-to-face discussion searching for the most reasonable explanation.
Lou says that of all the research in recent years, apart from 5 percent of fake reports, more than 90 percent of the reported UFO incidents can be explained as optical phenomena ?? light reflecting off a kite or a plane or an aberration in the printing of a photograph, for example.
A UFO sighting in Chongqing in June, for example, has been proven to be a virtual image like a mirage.
Shanghai, however, has quite a UFO track record with four "big incidents" on record in 1987, 1990, 1991 and 1999.
In each case the incidents were witnessed by many people suggesting whatever they saw was flying very high. And in each case the objects flew in patterns not possible for any plane or kite.
Wu witnessed the incident in 1999 which lasted about 10 minutes.
Though their achievements have been recognized by many people and many witnesses of alleged UFOs contact them for help, the research center still struggles financially as UFO research is still out of the mainstream of science in China.
This lack of money means members have to devote part of their salaries to the center. Lack of new members is another problem. At the moment there are only about 30 members and most are over 50 years old.
Wu says he found many young people were interested in UFO phenomenon when he gave lectures at universities, but sadly few choose to get involved in the non-mainstream program.
Lou says the center has successfully invited some well-known astronomers to become members to help boost the professional image of the center, but he agreed the participation of young people would help.
"They are passionate, quick thinking, broad-minded with abundant information channels. They will inject new blood to the research program," says Lou.
Chen Xiaoyu, a 34-year-old bank staffer, is one of the younger members of the center in charge of the primary filter of UFO reports.
"I'm no expert in astronomy or aircraft. Yet my psychology course at college helps the research," says Chen.
According to Chen, a clear and reliable witness report is the fundamental basic for UFO research.
So often witnesses unintentionally provide incorrect information. Take the famous UFO "sighting" at Duxi Forest Farm in Guizhou Province in 1994 for example.
There were various versions from witnesses about how long the phenomenon, ranging from five minutes to 30 minutes. A psychologist on the spot asked every witness to close his or her eyes and review the whole process in their mind and say "stop" when it finished.
The simple test showed that even the longest review process took no more than 20 seconds. The witnesses did not lie but their senses deceived them.
"UFO research is not as simple as solving an astronomy or flying problem. It involves many aspects such as psychology and picture-editing by computer," says Chen. "Anyone can participate in the research from his or her angle."
Shanghai's 'Big Four' UFO events
1. August 27, 1987, 7:55-7:58pm
Witnesses: Thousands of people in Shanghai and Anhui, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Taiwan provinces
Color: Silver in center, orange at edge
Brightness: Brighter than stars, not as bright as the moon
Direction: From southwest to southeast
Height: 2,000-10,000 meters
Witness report: According to the witnesses, in the process of its moving from southwest to southeast, the shiny object descended slowly at first and suddenly jumped high and disappeared.
An air force pilot also witnessed the object. He said it did not affect operation of his plane and it flew about 3 to 4 kilometers above the ground and was many times faster than his jet.
Mystery: Its flight path was against the principle of normal dynamics. It flew faster than a plane but slower than a meteor. No man-made rockets can match that speed and shape.
2. October 31, 1990, 5-5:15pm
Witnesses: Thousands of people in Shanghai, mainly in the west and north including Jiading and Songjiang districts.
Shape: "U", "fish" or "shuttle"
Color: White head and orange edge
Brightness: Brighter than stars
Direction: From south to northwest
Height: About 2,000 meters
Witness report: People in different regions reported the shiny object to be different shapes, some saying like a "U," some like a "fish" and some like a "shuttle." Wang Guowei, a teacher in Putuo District, recorded clear video footage of a flying "U" while Baosteel TV Station in Baoshan District recorded witness' words about a flying "fish."
According to the video and witness reports, the object descended slowly then disappeared.
Mystery: "U", "fish" and "shuttle" shapes were witnessed at the same time by people in different regions. It flew at an average speed and maintained the same brightness until it disappeared.
3. March 18, 1991, 6:03-6:28pm
Witnesses: Thousands of people in Shanghai, mainly in the west, and Jiangsu Province.
Shape: "Fish," "shuttle" and column (witness report from the ground)
Color: White head and orange rail
Brightness: As bright as a comet
Direction: From southwest to northeast at first, then from southeast to northwest
Height: About 3,000 meters
Witness report: According to the record of conversation between the control tower of Hongqiao International Airport and crew of Flight 3665 who witnessed the incident, the UFO flew northeast then changed direction, height and speed several times. The UFO was red at first and turned black in the process. The black object split into two parts ?? a round head and a rectangle tail, and merged together again as a red ball before it disappeared.
Mystery: The UFO changed speed and height quickly several times and easily moved forwards and backwards which cannot be done by a plane.
4. December 9, 1999, 4:30-5:05pm
Witnesses: Thousands of people in Shanghai
Shape: "V," transverse "V" or a vertical bar
Color: Orange, or white head and orange tail
Brightness: Brighter than stars
Height: Less than 20,000 meters
Witness report: The UFO flew very slowly for about 10 minutes, at about 4 kilometers per minute, and it also remained still at one point. Some witness with high-power telescope said that they saw the UFO made a right-angle direction change.
Mystery: The object flew at a very low speed and even kept still in the sky which cannot be done by plane.
Recent China UFO incidents
November 30, 1994
Where: Duxi Forest Farm in Guizhou Province
Witnesses saw a strong light in the sky and heard rumbling like a train moving. A 3-kilometer-long stretch of trees were all broken at the same height.
June 26, 1995
Where: Fuxin City in Liaoning Province and four counties in the west of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
Twelve witnesses in Fuxin reported a UFO with a nebulous aureole as big as a wash basin moving in the sky. Witnesses in four counties of Guangxi saw a 2-meter-in-diameter UFO in the sky the same day.
October 4, 1995
Where: Northeast of China
Pilots of four airplanes flying in northeastern China saw a white oval UFO at the same location in the sky. Some said that the white UFO turned green later, some said it turned red while others said yellow.
August 25, 1996
Where: Xiamen, Fujian Province
Witnesses saw two cricoid luminatary UFOs appear above them in Xiamen. A sailor took video of the whole incident.
Date: October 8, 1996
Where: Shijiazhuang Airport in Hebei Province
A Boeing 757 airliner was hit by unidentified objects on its way from Beijing to Wuhan in Hebei Province. The plane returned to Beijing and landed safely.
Date: December 23, 1997
Where: Guangzhou, Guangdong Province
Witnesses saw a dish-like shiny object moving in the sky from Jinan University to the wu shan' (five hills) area for almost an hour before it disappeared.
Date: June 30, 2002
An air force pilot in Chongqing saw an object with yellow lights flying in the same direction beside him at about 10pm. The object kept flying parallel even after he changed direction. Fifteen minutes later all officers and soldiers on the ground saw the whole airport suddenly lit from above. The episode lasted about eight minutes.
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