The Souls of China: Book Talk with Ian Johnson

April 24, 2017
Ian Johnson 2016 red door.jpeg
photo credit: Sim Chi Yin/VII

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 uncertainty--over what it means to be Chinese, and how to live an ethical life in a country that discarded traditional morality a century ago and is still searching for new guideposts.

On Thursday, April 20, Pulitzer-Prize winning author Ian Johnson gave a public talk about his new book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, discussing his broad experience in the country and how it led him to document the Chinese people's search for their own moral centers in the aftermath of the communist Cultural Revolution and the turbulent politics that followed. The consummate inside-outsider, he regaled the audience with anecdotes from his five years of travel and research and introduced his audience to several of the individuals featured in the book. He took his listeners along for part of his journey to religious events and rituals seldom seen by non-Chinese and non-locals, inspiring reflection on the meaning of faith for billions of people and how their answers to this critical question will come to shape the future of their nation.

Ian Johnson is a journalist and writer focusing on society, religion, and history. He works out of Beijing and Berlin, where he also teaches and advises academic journals and think tanks. Johnson has spent over half of the past thirty years in the Greater China region, working as a newspaper correspondent in China from 1994 to 1996 with Baltimore's The Sun and from 1997 to 2001 with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered macro economics, China's WTO accession and social issues. In 2009, Johnson returned to China, where he writes features and essays for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, National Geographic, and other publications. He teaches undergraduates at The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, and also runs a fellowship program there. In addition, he formally advises a variety of academic journals and think tanks on China, such as the Journal of Asian Studies, the Berlin-based think tank Merics, and New York University's Center for Religion and Media.

Ian Johnson's 4/12 interview on NPR:

YouTube preview of The Souls of China