The group of eight assembles every Sunday morning, risking arrest.
On a Sunday morning in June, they filed into a tiny, windowless underground apartment in Beijing to attend a Christian church service in the second little room to the left of the front door. Pastor He Xian spent the next two hours leading his small flock in hymns and delivering a sermon as congregants sat attentively on plastic folding chairs about four feet away.
I find myself in this alley near Houhai everyday. There is a coffee shop where I drink milky tea and a small dive where I drink cheap shots at night. Further along, past the tea and pipe shops, the path curves to the left, over a small bridge that leads you into the bar district lining the shores of the lake.
But if you go straight into a crumbly alleyway instead of following the path over the bridge, you might come across Mrs. Xing, 51, selling incense outside the gate of Guanghua Temple.
Late one afternoon, our giant charter bus rolled into a quiet town two hours northeast of Xian to explore life outside the urban centers in China. What we found was, in my opinion, a level of hospitality unmatched thus far in our travels. After finishing a delicious dinner prepared by a group of local women, we took a slow stroll to the town’s only Christian church, escorted by the cunzhang, "village head."
Walking down a major Beijing thoroughfare in search of a subway station, I passed a mustached man of olive-colored skin on a flatbed tricycle loaded with che, a sweet snack made of peanuts and fruit. He asked if I wanted to buy some, and offered a free sample. The man spoke Chinese with a heavy accent, and I realized he was not an ethnic Chinese, but a Uighur, one of China’s ethnic and religious minorities.
For a generation raised on MTV rather than Mao Zedong Thought, Buddhism, along with other traditional Chinese ideologies such as Confucianism and Taoism, offers young people a way to reconnect with their Chinese identity in the face of increasing globalization.