Living Otherwise: Buddhist Photography on the New Silk Road

Religion in China

Tian Lin was not alone in his search for meaning in contemporary China. As recent scholarship from anthropologists such as Arthur Kleinman and others have shown us, over the past decades there has been a major revival of religion in China. There are now estimated to be around 150 million self-identified Buddhists in China, 70 to 100 million Christians and 50 million Muslims in China. 

There has also been a resurgence of traditional Chinese health practices such as Qigong which at times have also taken on a religious aspect. Even more recently psychotherapy and self-help guides have become major industries in China.  Among middle-class Han there has also been a recent rise in Han Tibetan Buddhist practice. 

For many people in China, religion provides a set of values and a shared sense of community that gives them a framework with which to cope with the uncertainties of everyday life. 

As one of Arthur Kleinman’s informants told him: “China, you know has no moral compass today. Some people, maybe a lot of people, are not bothered too much by that, but I am and so are many of my friends. I don’t get all that enthusiastic about going to church. And the same holds for Buddhism. But I believe in a kind of fusion of religion, you know. Half reverence for ancestors, half a kind of theism. God is in the small things. Life is sacred. My friends and I read a lot of books about religion.”  

Tian Lin was one of those people that was bothered by the directionlessness he saw around himself. Like many such people he came to religion and moral philosophy as an adult. 

Since the formal religious education for children is still not a major aspect of life in China, many people find faith through informal meetings in restaurants, book clubs, and workshops that are held in people’s homes. 

After he failed at his business Tian Lin decided to take the Buddhism he had studied more seriously and did a formal course of study at monastery in the nearby mountains. But after an extended period of study he decided to come back to the city. 

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