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Religion in China Today

Back to the Center of State and Society

October 2019

A presentation featuring Beijing-based, Pulitzer Prize-winner
Ian Johnson

Speaker: Ian Johnson

Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist

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For almost a century, Chinese leaders have pursued an agenda of top-down secularization, with most religions heavily persecuted or banned.

 

However, religion is now back at the center of Chinese society and politics, with the country awash with new temples, churches, and mosques—as well as cults, sects, and politicians trying to harness religion for their own ends.

 

And now, at the same time that it is demolishing churches and detaining Muslims in reeducation camps, the government is promoting Buddhism, Taoism, and folk religion.

 

What sense are outsiders to make of these seeming contradictory policies? How do Chinese leaders intend to manage the tension between an atheistic state and a constitution that guarantees freedom of religious belief? What do these policies this say about China’s participation in the larger global community?

 

Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Ian Johnson has lived in China for more than 20 years, following the country’s search for values, faith, and new ways of organizing society.

 

Selected Works by Ian Johnson (张彦)

 
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The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao (2018)

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 the quest for identity and meaning: What does it mean to be Chinese in the modern world? And how does one live an ethical life in a country that has savaged its own moral traditions for over a century, even before the current regime came to power?

For six years, Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Ian Johnson lived for extended periods with three religious communities: the underground Early Rain Protestant congregation in Chengdu, the Ni family’s Buddhist pilgrimage association in Beijing, and yinyang Daoist priests in rural Shanxi. Johnson distills these experiences into a cycle of festivals, births, deaths, detentions, and struggle that reveals the hearts and minds of the Chinese people—a great awakening of faith that is shaping the soul of the world’s newest superpower.

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Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China (2005)

In Wild Grass, Pulitzer Prize—winning journalist Ian Johnson tells the stories of three ordinary Chinese citizens moved to extraordinary acts of courage: a peasant legal clerk who filed a class-action suit on behalf of overtaxed farmers, a young architect who defended the rights of dispossessed homeowners, and a bereaved woman who tried to find out why her elderly mother had been beaten to death in police custody. Representing the first cracks in the otherwise seamless façade of Communist Party control, these small acts of resistance demonstrate the unconquerable power of the human conscience and prophesy an increasingly open political future for China.