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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?
Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has lived in China on and off over 30 years, reports on his six years of research into the reemergence of religion in China. Using a narrative framing of the Chinese year and its associated cultural and religious holidays, Johnson explores China's geographic, religious, and cultural diversity through stories from disparate traditions such as an underground Protestant church, practitioners of qigong, fortune-tellers, Beijing pilgrims, and rural Taoist priests. Johnson's writing is compelling and lyrical, and his research strikes a fluid balance between the political implications of a resurgence of spirituality in a society that for so long suppressed any official religious presence, and the implications for daily life and society found in the complex and human details of this new populist cultural development, including funerals, births, marriages, and applications of government propaganda. The book should appeal to anyone interested in China, and to readers interested in how people use religion and spirituality to forge relationships, build cultures, and make sense of their lives.