The Souls of China

The Souls of China

The Return of Religion After Mao

Book - 2017
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From the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a revelatory portrait of religion in China today--its history, the spiritual traditions of its Eastern and Western faiths, and the ways in which it is influencing China's future.

The Souls of China tells the story of one of the world's great spiritual revivals. Following a century of violent anti-religious campaigns, China is now filled with new temples, churches, and mosques--as well as cults, sects, and politicians trying to harness religion for their own ends. Driving this explosion of faith is uncertainty--over what it means to be Chinese and how to live an ethical life in a country that discarded traditional morality a century ago and is searching for new guideposts.

Ian Johnson first visited China in 1984; in the 1990s he helped run a charity to rebuild Daoist temples, and in 2001 he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the suppression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. While researching this book, he lived for extended periods with underground church members, rural Daoists, and Buddhist pilgrims. Along the way, he learned esoteric meditation techniques, visited a nonagenarian Confucian sage, and befriended government propagandists as they fashioned a remarkable embrace of traditional values. He has distilled these experiences into a cycle of festivals, births, deaths, detentions, and struggle--a great awakening of faith that is shaping the soul of the world's newest superpower.
Publisher: New York : Pantheon Books, [2017]
Edition: First Edition.
ISBN: 9781101870051
1101870052
9780241305270
0241305276
Branch Call Number: 200.951
Characteristics: x, 455 pages : maps ; 25 cm

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dennismmiller
Feb 14, 2018

As the twentieth century began, religion was endangered in China. Chinese intellectuals considered the country's traditional beliefs as either symptom or cause of the nation's backwardness, while opposing foreign religion as the tool of imperialism. Even before the Communists came to power in 1949, religion was denounced in education, the rights of religious organizations were limited, and much of the country's sacred landscape had been demolished. Then came Mao, who attempted to impose socialism and atheism at the cost of tens of millions of lives.

As the twenty-first century begins, religion is booming in China. The government actively subsidizes the study and practice of traditional Chinese religions and philosophies, even promoting them overseas. Meanwhile, Protestant Christian churches, some of the few public institutions existing outside of Party control, are booming, with the result that China now hosts the seventh largest Christian population in the world.

This continuing change is the subject of Ian Johnson's The Souls of China. This is not a statistical overview, however, but a look at the nature, causes, and future of China's "Great Awakening" through personal stories, including a family of traditional yingyang men, a family running a reborn pilgrimage society associated with a Daoist shrine, the followers of a Buddhist sage, and the leadership of an evangelical Christian church, all arranged and revisited through the framework of the traditional Chinese year. The result is remarkable and fascinating. Johnson brings sympathy and understanding to his study, which is sensitive and nuanced. His treatment of the secular rituals of the Communist party is particularly interesting, highlighting their quasi-religious nature and further demonstrating why the Chinese, having lost faith in Marxism, have found progress impossible without religion.

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