The Souls of China

The Souls of China

The Return of Religion After Mao

Summary

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?

Reviews

  • Ian Johnson peels back the gleaming surfaces of modern China to reveal a sacred landscape underneath - a web of ritual and tradition, myth and faith, that has sustained Chinese for centuries and is doing so anew. Over a year in the traditional calendar, Johnson takes us on an extraordinarily rich and intimate journey-from pilgrimages on holy mountains, to the thriving Protestant congregations in the nation's booming cities, to the village farmhouses where Daoist funerals are held and fortunes told. Johnson shows us what is really in Chinese souls and hearts. This vividly written, deeply researched book will be the primary work about religious faith in China for years to come.
    Leslie T. Chang, author of Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

About the author

Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer based in Berlin. He spent more than twenty years in China, first as a student and then as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the New York Review of Books. He is the author of two other books that also focus on the intersection of politics and religion: The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, and A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West.
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