The Souls of China

The Souls of China

The Return of Religion After Mao

Book - 2017
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'Masterfully opens up a little explored realm- how the quest for religion and spirituality drives hundreds of millions of Chinese' Pankaj Mishra
' The reappearance and flourishing of religion is perhaps the most surprising aspect of the dramatic changes in China in recent decades...t his is a beautiful, moving and insightful book' Michael Szonyi
In no society on Earth was there such a ferocious attempt to eradicate all trace of religion as in modern China. But now, following a century of violent antireligious campaigns, China is awash 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 and is still searching for new guideposts.
The Souls of China is the result of some fifteen years of studying and travelling around China. The message of Ian Johnson's extraordinary book is that China is now experiencing a 'Great Awakening' on a vast scale. Everywhere long-suppressed religions are rebuilding, often in new forms, and reshaping the values and behaviours of entire communities.
Ian Johnson is as happy explaining the wonders of the lunar calendar as talking to the yinyang man who ensures proper burials. He visits meditation masters and the charismatic head of a Chengdu church. The result is a rich and funny work that challenges conventional wisdom about China. Xi Jinping, China's current leader, has put a return to morality and Chinese tradition at the heart of his ideas for his country - but, Johnson asks, at what point will the rapid spread of belief form an unmanageable challenge to the Party's monopoly on power?
Publisher: New York : Pantheon Books, [2017]
Edition: First Edition.
ISBN: 9780241305270
Branch Call Number: 200.951
Characteristics: x, 455 pages : maps ; 25 cm


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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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