The communists who took the reins in China in 1949 viewed religion as backward and superstitious. Authorities did their best to wipe out religious life. And by the end of the 1970s, they’d been very successful.
“There were basically no functioning places of worship in the entire country. This is a place that had over 1 million temples and scores of churches and thousands of mosques,” says Ian Johnson, the author of the new book “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao.” “They were all closed down or destroyed.”
But these days, Johnson says, religion has not only survived in modern China, it’s thriving.
“[Karl] Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses, and sometimes I think that the [Chinese] government is a little cynical and thinks, ‘Yeah maybe it is the opiate of the masses, but for us, now, we’ll use it as the opiate to keep the people in line.'”