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Talking about Souls of China

January Book Club

Do you love to read? Do you love to read books about China? Do you love to discuss books about China? If you answered yes, then I have some great news for you.

In 2023, we will be teaming up with our friends at ERRChina/CAC to host a series of online book clubs. While many of us long to be in China, we can continue being life-long learners of the land and people that God has put on our hearts.

The first book that we will read and discuss is Souls of China: The Revival of Religion after Mao, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ian Johnson. Here’s the description from Amazon:

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, a revelatory portrait of religion in China today—its history, the spiritual traditions of its Eastern and Western faiths, and the ways in which it is influencing China’s future. 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 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 searching for new guideposts.

Here’s what I had to say about the book in a review that I wrote for The Gospel Coalition in 2017:

The role of religion in China can be confusing, especially for Westerners who often see the world in black and white. The complexity Johnson describes includes a Taoist priest who travels the world, and the pastor of a public and thriving “underground” church. We see an officially atheist government that embraces and promotes traditional values, most of which are rooted in traditional religious beliefs. The government jettisoned one set of moral standards (Confucianism) for another (Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong thought), then jettisoned that one without replacing it with anything other than economic development, creating a moral and spiritual vacuum. Now, instead of trying to smash religious belief, the party is trying to co-opt it by focusing on traditional values.

Brent Fulton, in his review for ChinaSource, writes:

Focusing on religious expression among China’s Han majority, Johnson does away with the notion that religious believers in China are found only among a few scattered minorities or disenfranchised groups. Through patient reporting and firsthand experience coupled with a keen knowledge of Chinese history and culture, Johnson brings us face-to-face with ordinary Chinese whose expressions of personal faith are as varied as the diverse locations in which Johnson finds them. Indeed, as Johnson travels from the “incestuous” capital of Beijing to the shores of legendary Lake Tai and the teahouses of Sichuan, his rich, multi-textured description brings to life not only the fascinating characters he meets along the way but also the unique character of the places they call home.

The online book club will meet via Zoom to discuss the book on Wednesday, January 11 at 5pm (PST) / 7pm (CST).

If you would like to join this discussion, please go here to register. Once you’re registered, get the book, grab a cup of tea, and read it through in preparation for the discussion on January 11.

Happy Reading!

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Image credit: Paola Chaaya on Unsplash.
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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