"Is it really true that all Chinese are atheist?" they often ask in tones that mix disgust and incredulity. Coming from a country where religion does not influence life so much as form the substratum upon which life is acted out, the lack of a constant and visible religiosity in China is understandably striking to them.
Yet to the perspicacious it is clear that atheism is not the whole story. The scarlet flash of a monk’s robes punctuating the consumerist armies that invade Beijing’s bazaars; the glint of the rooftop of a newly renovated temple, framed on each side by phallic skyscrapers; the click of prayer beads barely audible amidst the exuberant aural mosaic of construction and traffic of Chinese cities: are all clues that point an observant eye to a more complex reality. It is this thorny complexity that Poonam Surie attempts to unpick in China: A Search For its Soul, with mixed results.