Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Inside China's Religious Revival
China is one of the most analyzed countries on the globe. Which comes as no surprise. Put well over a billion human beings together on a 3.7-million-square-mile patch of earth, and they're bound to have an outsized role in world affairs, for good or for ill.
Many books, articles, and academic studies focus on China's economic prospects, its military ambitions, or its repressive Communist government. And "all of these are important," says journalist Ian Johnson, "but you also need to look at the inner life of the country." What do its people believe about right and wrong? About the ultimate meaning of life? About the ideals their society should stand for?
Before Mao Zedong launched his vicious persecutions, Chinese religious traditions—including Christianity—had played an important role in answering these questions. In the past couple decades, the Chinese people have rediscovered religion in a big way, as Johnson, a regular contributor to The New York Times and The New York Review of Books, demonstrates in The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao.
"For most people in China," he told CT, "the basic problems of food, clothing, and shelter have been solved. But then they look at their society and realize they want something more. There is a human desire for meaning in life and for arranging society on some kind of moral order. This has spurred the revival of religion—the traditional Chinese religions, to be sure, but also Protestant Christianity."Rob Moll, a CT editor at large, interviewed Johnson for the April issue of CT.