Ian Johnson chronicles the rise of religion in China
GPS’s 21st Century China Center welcomed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ian Johnson for its sixth annual Robert F. Ellsworth Memorial Lecture
March 27, 2018 | By Rachel Hommel | GPS News
Robert F. Ellsworth was more than a diplomat, he was a lifelong scholar and believed in the vision of creating a world-class 21st Century China Center at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS). In its sixth installment, GPS continues to honor his lasting legacy of creating dialogue surrounding U.S.-China relations today.
“At GPS, we have built the preeminent center on China in the U.S.,” said Dean Peter Cowhey. “The Robert Ellsworth Memorial lecture is a symbol of how you as a community help shape this agenda.”
Sponsored by the 21st Century China Center, the March 21 lecture welcomed to campus Ian Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize-winner whose resume includes writing for the Wall Street Journal, The New York Review of Books and The New York Times.
As part of a daylong conference to understand the changing relationship between religion and cultural development, Johnson’s evening talk mapped the sacred landscape of modern religion in China.
“This is the first time we are introducing these issues to an American audience,” said Distinguished Professor Richard Madsen. “The ‘citizenization’ of religion is a hot topic in China and Johnson presents the topic in a beautiful way that’s very comprehensive.”
Religion in China, The Rise and Fall
Introducing Johnson’s latest book, “The Souls of China” was Reverend Eleanor Ellsworth, a religious leader in our own local community. Applauding Johnson’s gifted manner of expression, the book excels at weaving contemporary and historical threads together she added.
“In his book, you really get to know the heart and soul of the people of China,” said Ellsworth. “This year’s lecture was a perfect example of excellence exploding into the intellectual arena of Chinese cultural studies.”
For more than five years, Ian Johnson traveled all around China to observe rituals that few outsiders witnessed. Living with the locals, he spent time meditating in caves in Southern China, hanging with Daoist priests in the countryside and even time in an underground church in Sichuan.
In traditional China, religion and politics were interchangeable. Johnson’s first travels to China began in 1985, just at the start of the rise of religion. For Communist leaders, if you wanted to change the political system, you had to get rid of religion.
“The government was concerned with spiritual issues. Churches were exploding, mosques were being built, religion was reviving,” said Johnson.
Temples in China were the nexus of power and therefore religion was seen as a social ill. By the end of the 20th century, the number of temples in China had been cut in half, destroyed or demolished out of fear, alongside a banning of all open practice of religion during Mao ruling.
Present Day Faith and Community Building
Over the years, Johnson noticed a widespread perception of a spiritual vacuum, due in part to a lack of social trust by citizens. The government has not offered a credible alternative vision besides promoting economic progress. But in modern society, the Chinese are fighting to practice their own faith, to reclaim societal values.
While there is still governmental fear, there is a clear cultural shift towards finding purpose. Johnson addressed the Chinese desire to find a deeper meaning in life. Looking at both traditional religions of Daoism and Buddhism, as well as other religions like Christianity and Protestant, the rise began in the mid-1990s, fueled by Qigong.
“People are looking for values, they are looking for faith,” said Johnson. “Communist values are not going to be attractive or credible for most people. The Party has to offer something else.”
From growing religion in underground churches to sharing pilgrimages on social media platforms like WeChat, religion has become a part of daily Chinese life, with ready-made fellowships offering Chinese a sense of community. In an age of modernization and governmental restrictions, religion brings back the souls of China.
“Religion has gone from being a minor part of the Chinese story in the 20th century to an integral part of the Chinese story in the 21st century,” said Johnson.
- Sylff Fellows translate vision into reality
- Stanford study finds poor air quality responsible for one in five infant deaths in sub‑Saharan Africa
- Office hours: Associate Professor Jennifer Burney
- Class of 2018 graduates embody global citizenry and leadership
- Science Policy Fellows program nurtures effective interdisciplinary scholars
- Building cross-border relationships
- Geoengineering a greener future
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Adnan Saygili
- Celebrating academic excellence
- Painting the picture of an MPP student’s day
- Gregory Lee looks at the future of digital health and technology
- A sustainable seafood hero
- Pass the pen: Alumnae nominated spotlight
- Campus recognizes alumni as leaders and changemakers
- Innovation in mobile technology
- Ian Johnson chronicles the rise of religion in China
- Writing the book on China’s economic policy
- Broadening horizons through international experience at BCG
- Office hours: Professor Gordon McCord
- New evening option for working professionals
- China's infrastructure investment as a development strategy
- Rethinking the war on drugs in Mexico
- Creating theoretical frameworks
- Nurturing future leaders at TechPolis
- The future is female
- Jamal Russell Black on Veridian Analytics' entrepreneurial spirit
- Love is in the air
- A day in the life of an MCEPA student
- Health and human capital
- Eduardo Porter finds journalistic inspiration at GPS
- Technology assessment at the nexus of STEM and policy
- IGCC receives coveted UC research grant
- Battery storage at the center of energy policy
- Researching how humans and the environment interact
- Office hours: Professor Ulrike Schaede
- Fighting wildfires with web based imagery
- United we dream
- Our 2017-2018 Boren Fellows
- Applying game theory to study behaviors
- Students craft views on climate change at COP23
- Molding future technical experts
- Why GPS: A niche in life
- The art of entrepreneurship
- Solar energy and pursuing the policy dream
- Social entrepreneur and first time author Ken Davenport ’90 of “The Two Gates”
- Why GPS: Discovering a passion for all things math
- Our 2017-18 Dean’s Fellows
- A Living, Learning Laboratory
- A ‘Prep Program’ for success, before day one
- Office hours: Professor Gordon Hanson
- Adding to a truly interdisciplinary academic environment
- Why GPS: Apply now and figure it out later
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Noritoshi Kurokawa
- West Coast-Trained for a Washington, D.C. Think Tank
- Linked in Latin America
- Facilitating a ‘family affair’
- Nico Ravanilla retreats to Oxford for research
- 2016 alumni remember their first year in the real world
- Pioneering international excellence
- Research at the border: A living laboratory of transformation